02 August 2016

A Pseudo-Two Kingdoms Debate

Tuininga v. Boot

Listening to this debate was something of an exercise in frustration. It was a case of Dominionism v. Dominionism and the debaters admit as much--- that the differences are minimal. It really comes down to questions of form and expectation.

Tuininga is afraid of sectarianism and separatism because he's still committed to Christendom, the idea of a Christian shaped and influenced culture. However like most Dominionists who hold to a form of Two Kingdoms, (what we might call the Reformed and certainly the Lutheran variety), there's a real naivety about power, a lack of reflection as to what it is and a great deal of ignorance about what the New Testament has to say about the matter. While there's a certain coherence to the position, it is established on a false premise.

While Boot bears greater guilt when it comes to 'straw man' arguments, Tuininga is not exempt and this is especially true when it comes to the issue of Separatism, which is never properly defined, nor is it granted that it exists in different forms as many in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) will attest.

Of course all versions of Reformed Two Kingdom theology reference Calvin and both parties in this debate can indeed make their case. Calvin was on the one hand a thoroughgoing Sacralist but at the same time seemed to retain some form of separation of Church v. State. He was both a Renaissance Humanist and yet at the same time still mired by and tethered to the Scholastic method and a commitment to Christendom.

And yet, for all of Calvin's brilliance there have been few that have been willing to state... he was sometimes very wrong. The Genevan social polity did not reflect the theology or ethics of the New Testament. Reformed Two Kingdom adherents often try to explain away Geneva and somehow divorce it from Calvin's social theology.

Tuininga appeals to the notion of Civil Righteousness, certainly a category he shares with Boot, even though the notion is quite foreign to the New Testament if not the whole of Scripture, especially when referenced extra-covenant. Both seem to embrace the idea that the Mosaic Law and Israelite polity can serve as a form of pedagogy for the unbeliever. Boot would formalise this and all but slap a 'cross' on the badges of the police while Tuininga would prefer the influence to be limited to Christian participation and persuasion... and yet, just exactly what does such influence look like? He would compromise in terms of legislation, understanding that the civil sphere isn't holy and yet if Christians were able to exert their influence, enforced by police, courts etc... then that seems to be fine. It's a position that argues we can't expect to get real power, but as much as we can get... we'll utilise it. Just don't get carried away.

And so in the end, Tuininga represents what must be described as a watered down and less enthusiastic version of the same Dominionist doctrine being promoted by Boot.

Boot is a strange case, a proponent of a very sloppy and destructive form of exegesis. He absolutely slaughters Genesis and the accounts of Noah and totally misses the nuances and technicalities with his philosophically driven theological bulldozer.

There are so many ironies and examples of dissonance in his presentation that it would be difficult to catalogue. While accusing his opponents of philosophical bias he himself is dominated by it. While attacking dualism and Platonic influences he misses the irony that he's dominated by Monism, a child of Idealism and itself another footnote to Plato. And yet at one point he hints at a knowledge of this accusation and wants to dismiss it. Sorry, the charge is valid.

Of course Plato is not exempt from the cruel and circular irony on display in philosophical factionalism. It often comes full circle. Empiricism driven to the extreme lands one in the realm of the subjective, Berkeley's Idealism and Hume's Scepticism. The Rationalist, Idealist and Continental traditions have their same examples of circularity wherein their attempts to focus on mind and context end up falling back into expressions of philosophy dependent on empiricism and sense data. We might think of Phenomenalism or Dialectical Materialism as examples of this.

Even Thomism can turn monistic, abandoning Aristotelian epistemology by succumbing to commitments of system and coherence. One could argue even The Philosopher himself despite his empirical focus on particulars fell prey to Rationalism. Nominalism's scathing criticism exposed the reality that Thomism had in fact become (to speak anachronistically) Rationalist and Idealist. Nominalism itself succumbed to atomism and scepticism.

Plato of course spawned both dualist and pantheist tendencies and the monistic trajectory of Idealism (and we might add Sacralist thought) tends in the latter direction. Dualism is often the focus when throwing around the label of Gnosticism. And yet Dualism has many forms. Sometimes it's the good god v. bad god type of polarity, but in other forms it can be represented by matter v. spirit, and/or this temporal world v. the transcendent. There's overlap, sometimes they go together and in other cases they can go in different directions, and yet the Monistic variety of Gnosticism (since it has been largely embraced throughout much of Church history) is often missed, especially when presented (in the form of critique) within the pages of the New Testament itself.

The danger of Gnosticism was that in many cases it came quite close to New Testament teaching and yet was in the end an aberration, a different form of cosmological structure and thus theology, appropriating and subverting Christian terminology.

Boot would accuse Two Kingdom theology of Platonic Dualism and yet not only is Augustine accused of the same by the 'scholars' but the same will often accuse Paul himself of falling under such Platonic and sometimes Stoic influences. The New Testament condemns Gnostic excess but is also replete with examples of world denial, theoretical and practical dualities and sometimes an almost-asceticism... and yet is clearly not Gnostic.

Paul of course was not 'influenced' by these schools, rather we might say aspects of these schools bear a certain resemblance to Christian theology in terms of concepts and structure. That doesn't mean the one influenced the other. It's more a question of how far can philosophy go? Lost man still retains some sparks of brilliance and insight (as it were) but nevertheless falls short, and though there is an innate knowledge of God, fallen man always turns this perception into forms of idolatry.

While accusing Tuininga and Two Kingdom adherents of Platonism, Boot himself has failed to reckon with what the New Testament teaches. If Two Kingdom doctrine sometimes sounds a little like Platonism or sometimes employs categories that seem to be Platonic to the ignorant, then so be it.  If people like Boot can't tell the difference then it's due to either their simplicity or lack of Scriptural understanding. If we wanted to play the same game we could just continually accuse him of being a Valentinian or a Stoic. While there's some overlap and surface similarity, ultimately such an equation would be dishonest.

But one thing Boot is unable to do is seriously work with the text. He can't as his philosophy dominates his thinking and it is the lens through which he views every theological question. Hermeneutics for Boot is an exercise in rationalisation and coherence, not determining what the text actually communicates apart from our presuppositions and commitments. In that sense, hermeneutics can only affirm the paradigm and is therefore dead, as is clearly seen in his tortured readings of Scripture.

With Boot we're left with a display of almost comical irony. He's criticising Two Kingdom theology for being dominated by a commitment to philosophy and yet it's he more than anyone else that is dominated by philosophical commitments.

While attacking the idea of Common Grace (by which he seems to mean Natural Law) he falls into what can only be described as Romanticism about the 'glories' of Christendom, Western virtue and modern political and economic theories. Once again both men seem to exhibit a very shallow understanding of these topics and a real lack of reflection about the nature of culture, money and power.

Boot even attacks Two Kingdom theology for living in the vacuum of the middle class and affluent West while his Romantic waxings and paeans demonstrate that it is he who lives in the Ivory Tower of blissful ignorance. Some of his commentary borders on the absurd.

The existence of ISIS condemns the idea or validity of Common Grace? Last time I checked most of the world condemns ISIS and what it represents. Where did ISIS come from? How did it come into being? What social forces helped to bring it about and shape its murderous ideology? Ah, such questions are beyond the ilk of one such as Boot. His analysis is shallow and phony.

Even while he decries Nature-Grace dualism, he never really defines in what sense he's using it. Not all Two Kingdom adherents express confidence in Natural Law apart from a defective and temporary measure to restrain the worst of humanity. I find it ironic that he places a quote from Pascal on his website. Pascal's fideism (rooted in scepticism) aligns perfectly with what is often considered the extreme form of nature-grace dualism and yet would be heartily rejected by most Two-Kingdom adherents like Tuininga, let alone Boot!

Boot misses the fact that by the judgment of some, the Transformationalism which he heartily embraces can be said to be built atop Nature-Grace foundations. It all depends on where you're standing and how you assign primacy. Does he argue for a complete perfection of nature? Also, it depends on whether you see the Anabaptist view of the world as nature-grace dualism and if so, is this a repudiation of Rome or does it reflect a facet or tendency located within its theological tradition? Rome itself has various factions and schools of thought when it comes to this matter. This is despite the formal recognition of Thomistic theology. In this sense Protestant Sacralism can be said to exceed that of Rome in that it largely has a tendency to eliminate any sense of Nature/Grace duality let alone formal dualism. Whether you count that as a positive, something theoretical and indifferent, or perhaps the most evil development in the history of Christianity depends on how you answer these questions.

Regardless Boot (like all of his camp) does find some commonality with aspects of Roman Catholic theology. They seek to effectively reconstitute the medieval Roman system in a Protestant form. I have always found it both tragic and ironic that it is the Transformationalist who has (in the end) abandoned one of the most fundamental distinctives of the Calvinist system... Total Depravity.  While even the extreme understanding of nature-grace can argue for a transformation of that which is holy (the Kingdom-Church comprised of redeemed individuals) the Transformationalist believes that all of nature (pagans included) will be (to some degree) transformed by grace. This is Common Grace run amok, the Kingdom confused with the world. This is Common Grace confused with Redemptive Grace. This is ethics divorced from the Covenant, something absent from even Old Testament prophetic diatribes.

The Protestant Reformed (Hoeksema) faction is Rationalist and hyper-Calvinistic and wrong to utterly reject the concept of Common Grace... but there is an abuse of Common Grace they rightly critique. They are wrong-headed on a great many points, but they are almost alone in Reformed circles in understanding the danger of Dominionism, the cancer that corrupts the Biblical doctrine of Common Grace and turns it into something pernicious both for the world and the Church.

It also must be considered how an essentially Thomistic view of man's ability vis-à-vis nature can harmonise with presuppositionalism of any variety. The irony here is that almost all adherents of the various presuppositional camps are avidly committed to the Christian political project. I understand they root the methodology and process in a position that is seemingly at odds with Thomism, but again (I would argue) the difference is mere nuance. But I'm afraid that's a discussion for another time.

Boot like all of his school believes that man can all but overcome sin and has the ability to transform This Age. This is accomplished through the power of the Spirit of course, but a Spirit which somehow works in the unbeliever, a category quite absent from Scripture. Nowhere is the world or even the Gentile attempts at morality equated with the Holy Kingdom. And while he decries dualism, he presents what can be described as a monistic conflation, almost Pelagian in tone. At this point the argument turns philosophical and rest mainly in a question of coherence and the ability for one's philosophy to be comprehensive and applicable to the complexity of human culture.

That's all very interesting to be sure, but once again we have to ask what does the New Testament say? At this point Boot is so far removed from the New Testament that it's barely a point on his horizon. It's only purpose seems to be a source of data mining and it shows (painfully) as he dives in, ripping verses from their context and missing the central themes and messages of the New Covenant.

Boot in the end presents a theology that is what the New Testament would describe as worldly and does little more than promote worldliness and a veneer-like form of godliness.

I had to laugh at about 1h30min when he rhetorically asks is there a basis for this arrangement (Two Kingdoms) that smacks of permanent dualism? I'm paraphrasing.  Scripture is not in view, but instead he seems to want a theological-philosophical basis for such a structure that is compatible with a Sovereign Christ and all his (Boot's) temporal assumptions that go with the concept. His question is little more than question begging.

Apparently he's unfamiliar with Matthew 13 and the Parable of the Harvest.

He is so Monistic in his orientation that it plays out not only in his monocovenantal theology but in all of his thought. Everything is holy (Sacral) and there is virtually no distinction between the Church and the World. There is no antithesis between the Church and the world and if there is, it will be overcome in this age. All of theology and Christian thought is a synthesis of Biblical doctrine, philosophy and the world's knowledge. So-called 'Christian Worldview' is exposed for what it is...syncretism.

Monistic Theology like its Idealist cousin strays dangerously near to Pantheism. The Grace-Spirit is in everything and everything is Grace-Spirit.

To make a distinction between the Church and the world is dualism to him and yet that's precisely what the New Testament teaches. When Christ returns and the consummation, the eschatological transformation takes place, 'the world' will no longer be 'the world' as we speak of it. It will be the New Heavens and New Earth, a mystery revealed which is beyond both our ken and conception.

Boot and those like him envision a scenario this side of glory in which much of the New Testament would be rendered obsolete and inapplicable.

Yea and all who live Godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

Well, for the present Boot seems to suggest. But eventually the Dominionist Church will take over (or mostly so) and apparently we'll be doing the persecuting. We'll make 'disciples' by the 'gospel' of the word and if that fails, then by the sword.

Tuininga in the end is only slightly better. His 'Two Kingdoms' are still 'Christ's Two Kingdoms'. That's basically the same Monism with a nuance. Tuininga doesn't believe in Two Kingdoms. He believes in One Kingdom with different spheres. Yes, Kuyper's manifestation of this was more sociological and yet as with Kuyper (and the Lutheran tradition) there's little real difference. It's a question of nuance, form and expectation. Luther's doctrine of Vocation was just a backdoor for the Sacral society to re-emerge. It is so erroneous as to make us long for the dualism of Thomas if that were possible.

There's a reason we rightly refer to it as the Magisterial Reformation. From its outset it was wed to the state and the culture. This is true in both the Reformed, Lutheran and Anglican varieties of the Reformation and this is one of the main reasons it was from the beginning defective and quickly lapsed into (an almost necessitated) Scholasticism followed by political factionalism which led Europe into a series of large-scale wars.

The Two Kingdoms label is confusing and at this point probably less than helpful. Is the second Kingdom the Common order or the realm of Satan? It's a bit of both at the same time. The Common, the realm of restraint, allows us to live in the world but not be of it, something Boot, ignorant of the Scripture has totally missed. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's is meaningless to him. Instead he argues with Christ and would insist the coin is not Caesar's, but holy and an essential component of the Spirit-Kingdom.

But that's not what Jesus said. That's outside the text and is instead a philosophical inference and a category of deductive necessity. Caesar's realm is temporal, non-holy (not wholly wicked but not holy either) and will burn in the fires of the Eschaton with all his works.

Boot's discourse was irritating, frustrating and at times I found myself getting almost angry while listening to him spew forth his anti-Christian rubbish and heresies.

But his closing was most telling. My anger and frustration turned to pity, even lament.

It's clear he simply doesn't understand the New Testament. He doesn't understand the way of the cross, the role of suffering, the nature of God's wisdom that the world finds foolish. He too finds Godly wisdom to be foolish and a waste of time. The pilgrim and stranger motif central to the New Testament, let alone the vision and ethics of the Sermon on the Mount are completely foreign to him and beyond his comprehension.

He utilised Romans 8 to attack Two Kingdom theology and yet his misunderstanding of the passage was painful to hear and the level of misapprehension became manifest in his closing. Paul's teaching about the Church winning through suffering and defeat, being slaughtered sheep, the idea that this is how we are more than conquerors is something he cannot grasp because it falls completely outside of the triumphalist power-based system he has committed himself to.

The reason I lament for Boot is that he has quite literally misread the New Testament on a massive scale and has failed to understand its central themes and message. The Gospel for him is a means to power. Godliness is gain, wealth and power over others.

From my earliest days as a Christian I remember being so profoundly struck by the fact of Postmillennialism's utter foreign orientation to the central themes and impulses of the New Testament's teaching.

It's amazing how Triumphalism not only overturns the New Testament structure but its ethics as well. Boot proudly displayed (without meaning to) his rejection of the Apostolic hermeneutic regarding the Old Testament. Boot isn't novel, I'll grant that. He stands in accord with an ancient tradition, that of the Judaizer and with it aspects of Gnosticism. The Hellenistic-Judaizing he promotes is pre-Christian, anti-Christian and repeatedly warned against in the New Testament both in the Epistles and Apocalypse itself.

It is at this point that he and Tuininga diverge and take different courses. While Tuininga's theology is straying into the same error, Boot has crossed the Rubicon as it were and has ventured into terra tenebris, the realm of darkness. His zeal is not according to knowledge and the treasures he would lay up are not to be found in all of heaven. They are hay and stubble, rubbish to be burned and cast away.