14 April 2013

Baker's Banner of Truth Commentary- A Corruption of the Kingdom (Part 2 of 2)


Some unwittingly seek to mitigate the issue by embracing the two kingdom view of the world. That is, there are two spheres of influence. There is the church where the Bible reigns supreme, where all there should humbly embrace its teachings and follow it in obedience. Then there is the world where people reject the Bible and Christ. Our desire, of course, is to reach these people, to bring them into the church of Jesus; but since they do not believe the Bible, then we are told by many that these people will not listen to the Bible, that we must therefore use another means to reach them. That means is 'natural law.' So the appeal goes like this, 'Can't you see that homosexuality is counter-productive to any society? A society cannot survive with it. Can't you see that it is unnatural? There is a better way.' Unfortunately my beloved nineteenth-century southern Presbyterian Church embraced this view by refusing to condemn chattel slavery, referring to it as a political issue, one that did not enter the realm of the church. The German Church in the 1930's took the same position, refusing to speak out against the evils of Nazism, hoping and believing that they could co-exist with that wicked regime. So today we have many pastors and congregants who are content to stay on the reservation while the world runs wildly and unabatedly into perdition.


I agree that anyone who thinks we ‘reach’ the world with natural law is indeed engaged in foolishness. This has certainly been the approach of the Dobson crowd and others. Rather than preach the ‘offensive’ gospel they argue against abortion and homosexuality by appealing to medical, social and psychological arguments. Somehow this will create some kind of social morality so that they can still ‘feel good’ or pretend that their nation is Christian.

Baker gets it wrong though with regard to the antebellum Southern Church. It wasn’t natural law that they employed to vindicate their embrace of slavery. It was rooted in racism which is a logical consequence of Sacral thinking. Westernism is/was viewed as Christian and thus morally superior. Combine this with flawed notions of dominion, or cultural mandate and this creates a toxic formula for all kinds of ideology. It can justify imperialism and though there are some who doubt it, I have no doubts that all imperialism is by its very nature a racist view of the world. It creates a new morality that allows the exploitation of peoples, stealing their property and their persons.[i]

The problem with Dabney and Thornwell wasn’t that they weren’t Van Tillian enough. The problem was they were Sacralists and racists. Van Till’s Presuppositionalism is in many ways simply a philosophical justification of Sacralism. It re-works and revitalizes older philosophical ideas re-casting them in a coherent and admittedly potent form.

If Southern Presbyterians had been consistent in their doctrine of the Church’s spirituality then they wouldn’t have echoed the political division and created a ‘Southern’ church. They wouldn’t have played key roles in constructing and serving the Confederacy. That’s not spirituality, that’s simply a baptizing of the social order. Their agitation was with the Unitarian Abolitionists who were stirring the political situation and frankly encouraging violence in Kansas, Missouri and at Harper’s Ferry. The South’s view of ‘negro slavery’ was rooted in a theology. This in no way endorses the actions of neither the North, nor the thought or actions of Abraham Lincoln.[ii]

The whole ‘spirituality’ doctrine has always struck me as something of a farce, an excuse. Obviously there are those who differ and would argue (somewhat anachronistically) they were being faithful to the notion of Sphere Sovereignty. Nevertheless Sphere Sovereignty still places the state and culture at large within the pale of the Kingdom of God. It simply divides the power. A true doctrine of spirituality or Two Kingdoms recognizes just that…that the state and the culture at large are not part of the Kingdom but part of the realm of Common Grace.

This Common Grace is not a tool or means as Kuyper would suppose for the Church to build and advance the Kingdom. This notion carries with it the supposition that even unbelievers can contribute to the Kingdom! If the Kingdom is coextensive with Western Civilization then whether they knew it or not Leonardo, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Handel and Souza were all building the Kingdom of God. They were Christians in some kind of broad watered-down sociological (and certainly extra-Biblical) sense. This theology is rooted in philosophical sociological assumption and cannot be found in Scripture. It is prima-facie unbiblical.

Rather Common Grace is nothing more than Providence restraining wickedness through ordinary means. It is the regime of delayed Judgment and longsuffering mercy. It is the means by which a venue is created wherein the martyr Church can do its work proclaiming the glory of Christ and the gospel of grace.

Theonomists, especially those with Confederate sympathies, will argue the ‘spirituality’ doctrine does not harmonize with Baker’s argument, while some of the Machen appreciators (Hart and Gordon) would probably find some (albeit limited) agreement.[iii]

And once again the Two Kingdoms view is blamed for the triumph of Nazism in Germany.[iv] This is a total distortion of the historical and theological record. I will only say that the churches in Germany had long abandoned Christianity and had substituted it with a Sacral Theology. This occurred well before the ascendancy of the Higher Critics within the university. The Germans had been and still are very much used to a conformist culture and a state church.[v] The rise of Nazism cannot be divorced from the events surrounding German Unification under Bismarck and the defeat in World War I. The people of Germany having confused their culture with Christianity were brought very low and originally found the leadership of Hitler to be something of an answer to prayer. His Uber-nationalism and his purist morality appealed to them. Sacralism had fostered racism and depredations drove them to look for scapegoats.

The testimony of Niemoller, Barth and others is abundantly clear in this regard. The church in Germany (much like the American Church) had confused nationalism, culture, and race…and pride in all of it… with being a good Christian.

I’m not sure what Christians were supposed to do anyway? It wasn’t that many years ago that Bonheoffer while appreciated raised some eyebrows. He certainly wasn’t viewed as a martyr. An intriguing figure of dubious theological views…in the end he died because he was part of an assassination plot.[vi] 

But nowadays his person and his actions including the assassination attempt are being lauded. I’ve been listening very carefully to make sure I understand this correctly and there can be no doubt.

This in itself is disturbing. The misreading of history is even more so. While Obama is certainly an ungodly man and quite evil, a Hitler he is not.

George Bush…had he (and those who pulled his strings) been granted the power that they wished…that could have been pretty frightening. He was certainly closer to a Nazi-esque vision of society and the world than the rather weak and pathetic Barack Obama.

I believe if the circumstances were similar to 1933 the same thing could happen (quite easily) in the United States. The Christians believe today they would oppose Nazism were it to rise in our midst. They have largely misunderstood its political, economic and social motivations and certainly its context. In fact due to the now orthodox status of Sacral Theology they would be its champions. As I’ve said before the behaviour of the American Church during the period extending from September 2001 to March 2003 made that all too clear.


In Revelation 1:4-6, in his prologue to Jesus' marvelous revelation, the Apostle John puts forth a Trinitarian title, referring to God the Father who is, and who was, and is to come; and to the seven Spirits who are before the throne of God; and to Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the first born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth, the One who loves us and released us from our sins by his blood.

There are so many glorious things in this three-fold distinction of our great and mighty God, but I wish only to focus on one of them - Jesus is the ruler of the kings of the earth. Well, is he? Or is he merely the ruler of the church? King David says, 'Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron, Thou shalt shatter them like earthenware' (Psa. 2:8-9). 'The Lord says to My Lord: "Sit at My right hand until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet." The Lord will stretch forth His strong sceptre from Zion saying, "Rule in the midst of Thine enemies"' (Psa. 110:1-2). And Korah says, 'Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever, a sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of Thy kingdom . . . Therefore God, Thy God, hast anointed Thee' (Psa. 45:6-7). In other words, Jesus is king of all things. He is exalted to the right hand of the Father, above all rule, authority, power, and dominion, both in this age and in the age to come (Eph. 1:21; Col. 1:16; Rev. 11:15). He rules the church and he rules the world. There is no thing, no one, anywhere which is out from under his authority. And because this is true, then his Word applies in the world and the church. Natural law has no authority, no punch, no power. Man suppresses the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). He knows, deep down in the core of his being, that the Bible is true. It matters not whether people believe the Word of God. Our job is to use it in every circumstance, trusting the Holy Spirit to bring conviction, conversion, and sanctification to all who hear it proclaimed.


We read in 1 Corinthians 15…

22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. 24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. 27 For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. 28 Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.

I could appeal to many more passages but this and one more will do. Does Baker not acknowledge that there are those who are Christ’s and those who are not? Is there no distinction between the Church and the World? How under Baker’s view is the Kingdom ‘not of this world’? I hope he would acknowledge Christ is head of the World in a way different from His headship over the Church? Is the World in Covenant with Christ?

Clearly Christ is indeed the Universal Risen King. And in that sense all is ALREADY subject to Him. But at the same time in Hebrews 2 we also learn…

“For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him.”

There is a tension between the Already and the Not Yet. There is a sense in which Christ rules over all and yet because of the Not Yet aspect His reign or to speak in more clear terms, His ‘realm’ is restricted to those who are ‘in’ him.

The world and its kingdoms are not in covenant with God. They need to repent. I believe when the Bible in Psalm 2 and in many other places speaks of ‘the nations’ it is often employing synecdoche, a metaphor referring to the peoples of the world. Only a Sacral presupposition would extrapolate a Constantinian reading of these verses. Doesn’t Galatians 3.28 help us to better understand the promises regarding the nations?

26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Does Psalm 2 and other ‘nations’ passages teach that obedience to Christ, and a relationship with Him is exhibited in cultural endeavours, legislation or political forms? Does becoming Christian actually entail ‘divorcing’ yourself (at least in part) from your tribal or political loyalties?

The ultimate fulfillment of these passages will only come to fruition at the Eschaton. Just as “It is Finished” is indeed a reality we see it fulfilled at present in the form of the Already-Not Yet tension.

‘He rules the church and he rules the world’….

Indeed but unless you have a very low view of the Church then you must make a distinction.

I agree that it doesn’t matter if people believe our testimony to the Word. I agree that we must trust ‘the Holy Spirit to bring conviction, conversion, and sanctification to all who hear it proclaimed.’

But I don’t agree that ‘every circumstance’ would include wedding church and state, nor do I believe the state through its means can help us or supplement the work of the Holy Spirit. The state cannot bring ‘spiritual’ conviction…only the threat of a sword. The state cannot convert nor aid in conversion. The state cannot sanctify. To think so is to confuse the state with the Paraclete which I think is a key and very dangerous component to Sacral thinking.

The State functionally replaces the Holy Spirit. Does the sword wielding state preach the gospel? Does the state sanctify?


Those who embrace the two kingdom view are 'giving away the farm.' Admittedly, as we survey our world today we cannot find a nation anywhere that lives predominantly by God's Word; but many take that to mean this is normative, that we ought simply to accept this reality, and live the best we can in a foreign, godless culture. But the gospel of grace and power came to the Roman Empire, later to Europe, then to the United States, and the Christian consensus prevailed for centuries in all these places. That is because people humbled themselves under the mighty hand of God, repenting of sin, drawing near to Christ, and trusting the Holy Spirit to convert millions of people through the preaching of law and grace.

We must not give away the farm. We must reclaim it. How? Get off the reservation. Do so humbly, gently, but boldly. Do not be strident, but do not give an inch. When asked for a reason for the hope that is in you, do not fumble the ball.


I theologically and historically completely disagree with these statements. This is a reductionistic romanticised view of history dependent upon a watered down modified understanding of Biblical terminologies.

Just as theological conservatives condemned the Higher Critics and theological liberals for hijacking and redefining Christian terms, the Sacral camp is just as guilty of the same crime.

Christianity, gospel of grace, Christian, prevailed, humbled, repentance, conversion, law and grace, reclaim….

These terms are all being used in a way incompatible with Scripture, yea even antithetical to it.

In a grand sweep millions of deaths, lies, and evils have been baptized. Antichrist becomes Christ. The False Church is now the True. The Whore is now a virgin bride.


While we were living in Connecticut my wife joined the West Hartford Garden Club, using it as a means by which she could meet unconverted women in order to share Jesus with them. She knew nothing about gardening and I used to call her an impostor. We always got a nice laugh out of it. One day she was planting flowers in West Hartford with women from her Garden Club when the issue of same-sex marriage arose. They knew she was married to a pastor and they asked her our church's view on the matter. My wife gently said, 'First of all, my husband and I have had a ministry with HIV positive, homosexual men where as many as fifty at one time were in our home for a Christmas Party. We love all kinds of people, including homosexuals; and of course they and all people for that matter, are welcome to attend our church. Now, to answer your question, I can only tell you what the Bible says about homosexuality, as well as any other heterosexual activity outside of marriage. The Bible calls it sin and people must repent of this sin, any sin, and run to Jesus in repentance and faith. He will forgive them, cleanse them, and take them to heaven when they die.' The women, all older than my wife, began to laugh derisively. They were mocking her.

But give people the truth in love. Don't shrink from it, all the while praying for the Spirit to open their eyes and ears to the truth, that they may be drawn from darkness to light. Get off the reservation but when you do, do not be surprised by the fiery ordeal of persecution; and when it comes, rejoice and be glad for your reward in heaven is great. For they persecuted the prophets who came before you (Matt. 5:11).


If that’s all Baker means by getting off the Reservation then Amen. That’s a great story and that’s what we’re called to do.

But that’s a far cry from what he’s implying in the rest of the article.

Don’t be fooled.

In the end I don’t doubt that Baker is sincere in his belief and conviction. He sincerely believes he is honouring the Lord through these endeavours and exhortations.

Some would decry the harshness of my critique. If I am being harsh it is to emphasize the diametric opposition between these camps. Some would label this as a manifestation of the battle between Two Kingdom theology and the Kuyperian tradition.

Others might argue it hearkens back to the old battle between the Anabaptists and the Reformers. It’s actually much older. Baker represents Sacralist thought which in the Christian Church was birthed under Constantine. The critique is also an old one that began not long after.  Its adherents were persecuted by Baker’s celebrated ‘Christian Consensus’.

[i] The Afrikaners rooted their racism quite solidly in Dutch Reformed Theology. Granted they represent a divergence, but it grew from the theology, not an appeal to Natural Law. You will be hard pressed to find any in the Reformed camp who wish discuss the legacy of Calvinism in South Africa.
[ii] For the record I come from a family that had soldiers in both the Union and the Confederacy.  The more I’ve studied the War and the period I’ve come to despise both sides in many ways. Like most wars there aren’t really good guys or bad guys…just a lot of evil, greed and lies. Generally I don’t pick favourites even in reading history. I’m interested in the story. My favourite movie related to the war is ‘Shenandoah’ with Jimmy Stewart. If you know it, you’ll understand why I mention it.
[iii] I’m referring to J Gresham Machen the founder of the OPC. There’s an academic battle within the OPC regarding his views. Both the Two Kingdom folk and the Dominionist types wish to ‘claim’ him as their own. Though the OPC is the conservative remnant of the Northern Presbyterian Church the doctrine of the Church’s Spirituality often comes up with the context of the Machen discussions.
[iv] I have the notes but lack the time. I intend at some point to put together a fairly extensive piece utterly repudiating this notion.
[v] There are also Libertarian traditions among the Germans…but I think that would mostly be in relation to Germans who left Germany during the Great Auswanderung, the great migrations that began to occur after the Thirty Years War.
[vi] A refutation of the present Bonheoffer revisionism (led by E. Metaxas) is another project I want to pursue.


Cal said...

Thanks for the critique.

With Bonhoeffer, while I think he was a martyr and a brother, he certainly marred himself in the bomb plot. He even recognized it as a sin, one he did out of desperation. Even his connection to that plot is sketchy though. He was one of dozens, and he had a minor role. The way some talk of him was that he was some bomb lobbing hero. That's just not the case.

Sphere sovereignty, when I read about it and looked at diagrams, always left me uneasy. Why was the church just another organ of society? That was what happened in Rome, and ever since. The Church became a function of the government, of society, and it traded its pilgrim status for power. There were always faithful in pockets of the Orthodox, the RCC and the Heretics, but you know all this. Ugly.

The wife's story is good, but the one thing I appreciate from Van Till is the Presuppositionalism. She could've challenged them on the grounds of their derision. It allows one space to ask "What are we really talking about here? Gay marriage is not the real topic". Of course, Van Till can make a half-learned man into a cocky, dagger-wielding aggressor, stabbing everything that comes his ways with the tools of Presuppositionalism. That philosophical dialectic is not inherently Christian, anyone could use it. It's a skeptic's tool. However, as Christ followers, in love and gentleness, it can be a nice stick of TNT to free up a conversation and stimulate thought.

Food for Thought,

Protoprotestant said...

Again given the context, I can't judge too harshly. It was a desperate time and it's no surprise people acted in desperation. I know his role was pretty minor...but that being the case, why is he made out to be the hero?

It's one thing to acknowledge the deed was done, another to glorify and praise it.

Sometimes you get into ethical impossibilities. The old one is Corrie Ten Boom and the Nazis.

Is it okay to lie in order to protect the Jews? Yes???? So when else is it okay to lie?

No? Did she sin then? What was she to do?

Everyone sits and argues each side. It's the same with Rahab lying for the spies.

I think sometimes there is no good answer. Sometimes no matter what you do, you're sinning.

That's a far cry from 'doing evil that good may come'.

It's refreshing to hear of someone else who prima facie questions sphere sovereignty.

If you suggest that within Reformed circles people look at you like you're from Mars. There's obviously something wrong with you if you can't grasp something as simple as that.

For others familiar with this topic this where the White Horse Inn/Michael Horton crowd falls into error. I appreciate their Two Kingdoms stance, and their rejection of Constantinianism.

But then they seem to almost re-embrace through the backdoor by embracing Kuyperian categories...all rooted in Constantinan assumptions. All their culture discussions operate under this assumption.

Presuppositionalism as an apologetic method is just fine. I will grant to Sproul and some of its critics that it does reek of Fideism and circular argumentation. Nevertheless I believe it to be sound.

But Presuppositionalism is more than an apologetic method. It's a philosophical system. His project was to completely invalidate human autonomy in all endeavours. It wants to apply Sola Scriptura to the world. Since that goes beyond Scripture, you formulate theology using Systematics...as long as your method is right, the syllogisms add up...it's Biblical.

That way they can speak of the Biblical view of government, economics, culture etc... None of it is actually found in the Bible, but it's derived through formulation.

Presuppositionalism gives the philosophical basis for this exercise and invalidates all other methodologies.

Brilliant but it's not Biblical. And once again...being good Dutch Reformed...it's all rooted in Constantinian assumption. In fact philosophically Constantinianism in some form is the only option.

This also explains why so many Reformed are just nothing less than apoplectic about the whole Two Kingdom thing.

You're right about the apologetic being a knife...It's a destroyer. In some ways it's simply the Socratic Method read through the lens of the Bible. Keep pushing your opponent and watch them self destruct. If you know the questions to ask and how to keep peeling back foundational layers they'll eventually crack.

I'm just not sure how often it actually leads to conversions.

Mark Nieweg said...

Cal, Proto, please wander over to Mark Thiessen Nation's podcast at http://emu.edu/now/podcast/2011/02/23/dietrich-bonhoeffer-the-assassin-challenging-a-myth-recovering-costly-grace-mark-thiessen-nation/. Nation's book, due out this fall, is one challenging the notion Bonhoeffer ever was involved with bomb plot to kill Hitler. Check out the comments of some at the site, and Nation's response. This will be a fascinating discussion once the book gets reviewed.

Cal said...

Why is Bonhoeffer a hero? My opinion: a lot of Christo-Americanists and wayward brothers are stupid. They're looking for some figure who is remotely "in their camp" who stood up to the Nazis. It's more telling that they circle around 1 guy, and not a plethora. What happened to all those good patriotic christians in Germany? Why did they all go along with the Nazis? Their nationalism drives them to back a Bonhoeffer and yet they run him over when he tries to talk. It's like the conservative "adoption" (ha!) of MLK Jr. Bonhoeffer clearly demonstrates that he believed his work in the bomb plot was a sin. Yet they'll have none of it. Just like MLK being rather critical of capitalism and the war in vietnam as a racist and imperial mission. Yet they put duct-tape on his mouth and move him along on their parade of "heroes". It's a strange joke.

You're right about the presuppositionalism. It's a tool, and useful sometimes, but can be harsh many other times. Wisdom is required.


Protoprotestant said...

They put duct tape on his mouth, on the mouth of Charles Dickens and others. I roll on the floor laughing when I hear them try to claim Dickens. They are the essence of what he was against.

But it goes further...Victor Hugo!

Come on! Not only a Roman Catholic, but not even a good faithful one. They seem to miss his criticism of the clergy, oh and I guess we'll just ignore the seances and other stuff.

Sacralists (and maybe the American variety is the worst ever) play fast and loose with history. As I've looked through Christian homeschool catalogs at the history they promote...it's the worst. It is the last stuff I'd want my kids to read. It's pure propaganda.