18 February 2018

A Clash of Protestant Intellectual Traditions and Metanarratives (Part 1 of 2)

The retired PCA cleric who authored this piece has once again motivated me to write a response. Clearly he misunderstands the nature of Two Kingdom Theology. I say this also pointing out that he never clarifies which variety or strain of Two Kingdom Theology he wishes to oppose.

I would presume all of them and yet I also find that many of his stripe will come to the defense of Lutheran Two Kingdom Theology when it suits them and yet they will also condemn it and lump it in with Anabaptist varieties when convenient. Truly it is no wonder there is so much confusion when it comes to these discussions regarding the Kingdom. We might expect more from those who purport to wield authority within the Church but all too often they are motivated by partisan political concerns. I speak both in terms of societal and denominational politics.
Ball demonstrates that he also fails to grasp the forces at work within his own denomination the Presbyterian Church in America. I would say that Two Kingdom theology's influence within the PCA is negligible and almost non-existent. It's not part of its largely Evangelical history and has gained very little traction within its circles.
Ball is attempting to understand why a member of the PCA has become a political candidate affiliated with what is perceived to be a liberal party. Rather than blame Two Kingdoms doctrine the culprit lies with the PCA's embrace of a wide Evangelicalism. And what is at the heart of Evangelicalism? Dominion Theology.
Some will scoff at this suggestion but they do so in ignorance. Even though many Evangelicals do not openly espouse Dominion theology this has always been at its heart. I refer here not to the Evangelical tradition which goes back centuries but to modern American Evangelicalism which arose in the wake of World War II. As a movement it sought to break with Fundamentalism's separatism and instead pursue a programme and theology of cultural engagement and preservation/transformation. Thought it was not called Dominionism at the time, that's what it was and still is.
How then does one connect Evangelicalism and its often Right-wing political leanings with a modern liberal politician? Does this not represent a defection? 
Not really. The forces behind Evangelicalism are multi-faceted and after a couple of generations it's starting to go in different directions. Ball has not grasped this and his assessment is badly mistaken.
What we really have here is not as Ball would have it - a Bible-based social and political theory in conflict with a sub-biblical worldly defection from historical Protestantism.
Rather, what we have is a clash of Sacralisms, a battle within the confines of Sacral-Dominion theology. The largely misnamed Lutheran Two Kingdom theology also falls within this camp.
The Two Kingdom theology that Ball is attacking and misrepresenting is outside the scope of this conflict and as one who holds to such a view I can assure the reader that Biblical Two Kingdom Theology condemns the One Kingdom views of Evangelicalism, the Theonomy of Ball and the Lutheran view which is really One Kingdom described in two spheres.
Ball assumes the sacral position which of course if incorrect, negates the whole of his argument. He believes Sacralism (the Holy Society-Church/State project and way of defining the Kingdom) should have an Old Testament gloss. Mosaic Law is appealed to because the New Testament knows nothing of these issues. I would go further and argue it condemns Ball's assumptions regarding the Kingdom, his paradigm and use of the Old Testament but that's for another time.
Ball would argue the Bible is the basis for so-called Christian civil law and he must therefore turn to the only example of civil law in the Bible... the Old Testament. In good Judaizing fashion he would use the Old Testament as the basis for society, even though this is wholeheartedly condemned by the New Testament on many fronts.
The problem here is that Ball does not understand the New Testament's teaching about the Kingdom of God and thus he subverts and supplants the authority of the Apostles and replaces it with Moses.
Evangelicals hold to a view that to Ball seems widely different, but from my perspective it is the same position just viewed from a different historical and narrative angle. Like Ball and most Dominionists, modern Evangelicals would more or less equate the Kingdom of God with Western Civilisation or Christendom, a view Lutheran Two Kingdoms also embraces... an impossible view absolutely rejected by the New Testament. There have always been Christians that have understood this and they've often been persecuted by the Sacralist camp.
Additionally I think Ball presents a somewhat confused and convoluted Van Tillian attempt at criticising Natural Law even while he confuses it with Natural Theology. Van Tillians are usually perceived as being quite hostile to these concepts but this too is misleading. Kuyperian Worldview teaching is certainly at odds with Thomism and the Common Sense Realism of Old Princeton and yet from the Biblicist standpoint they're not that different. They merely represent a rehash of the School of Athens and the somewhat superficial and circular battles between Rationalism and Empiricism, Idealism and Realism, and the primacy of inductive vs. deductive reasoning.
Worldview teaching also believes in a type of Natural Theology but it masquerades as Biblical because it is arrived at through deduction taking the Bible as the axiomatic starting point. But even this is misleading as its deductive method is less than pure. In reality it is a synthesis if not a form of outright syncretism. It rightly grants Biblical data priority if not supremacy but then in order to expand beyond the Scriptures into realms of aesthetics, politics, civics, jurisprudence and elsewhere it necessarily must incorporate the ideas, concepts, data and categories of the lost world. And this is just in terms of idealised discussion. In terms of praxis, realisation and application, the waters grow even muddier... as so many of this camp have discovered.
It relies not a Natural Theology generated from ostensibly neutral objective reflections on experience and causality but it does (despite its 'Biblical' claims) rely on experience and empirical categories in crafting transcendent concepts, metaphysics and theology which are then effectively blended with Biblical data to form a comprehensive and coherentist worldview. It utilises the Bible but to call it Biblical is to necessarily redefine what the Bible is and what it's meant to do and describe.
At this point one (especially a more rigorous Calvinist like Ball) might criticise Evangelicalism's method of construction and argue they've embraced a more Thomistic view. They have a lower view of sin, a greater emphasis on free will, man's ability and intellect and certainly a more positive and even progressive view of civilisation. This is true even within denominations such as the PCA.
And yet even this discussion becomes entangled. Who is being more 'true' to historic Protestantism? While certainly some Calvinists believe that historic Calvinism and certainly Evangelicalism have succumbed to Arminian and Semi-Pelagian tendencies, the truth is that in terms of sociology Protestantism was until modern times 'forward looking', 'progressive', and certainly optimistic in its view of culture. It is only within the past few generations that Protestants have taken a new reactionary and growing romantic interest in Roman Catholic scholarship, philosophy and social theory. Prior to the post-war social crisis and the rise of the Moral Majority and movements like Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) very few in the Protestant world were interested in looking back. Indeed, even the Postmillennialism of Ball's fellow Theonomists comes into play here. If I'm reading him right he would probably condemn the older forms as inconsistent and pietistic expressions of Postmillennialism and yet the impetus and ethos of that doctrine continues to play out even in circles where it has formally been abandoned.
Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) is the virtual centre of Dispensational scholarship in the United States and yet as an Evangelical school it has embraced Dominion theology. It may retain the Darbyite Eschatological system but its ethos is just as Postmillennial as Ball's. These days there's far more talk of cultural war and transformation than there is of the so-called Seven Year Tribulation.
I commend Ball on his assessment of the US Constitution. I believe Theonomists have always been up front and honest on this point. They condemn the Founders as Enlightenment thinkers who founded the nation on sub- and even anti-Scriptural ideas. Theonomists reject the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and Democracy. And yet strangely some of them still consider themselves to be patriotic. I say this as one who believes allegiance to the Kingdom entails a rejection of worldly allegiances and thus my criticisms of American idealism are quite different than someone like Ball. I suppose if one equates nation with tribe as opposed to ideal.... itself a notion at odds with the founding ideology of the United States... one might be able to concoct some sort of narrative.
And that's really the issue here... narratives. Ball has a narrative of Protestantism derailed and he either embraces what is effectively a revolutionary doctrine... a Theonomist capture of the US and the tearing up of the Constitution or... a 'from the ashes' view advocated by many of Rushdoony's disciples. This view argues the West will soon collapse and that principled Theonomic thinkers who in many cases have bred prolifically will rise from the ashes and build a new Theonomic civilisation.
Other thinkers in the PCA and the Evangelical world have a quite different narrative and yet it has nothing to do with Two Kingdom theology.
They have also identified Western Civilisation with the Kingdom of God and they too think it has been derailed and yet unlike Ball they have not wholly abandoned the progressive/developmental heritage that was born of Magisterial Protestantism. The Reformers let the genie out of the bottle and opened up the West to a new and potentially subjective philosophical course. Christendom was shattered, something all Protestants once accepted as necessary. And yet what then? The Age of Reason quickly descended on Europe and was accelerated by the discord and social unrest. Various attempts were made to stop the chaos and warfare. Philosophers wrestled with epistemology and social theory. Confessionalism was utilised largely in terms of and in hope of new forms of Established Christianity... something Ball (if consistent) would embrace. Others turned to the Divine Right of Kings, Absolutism and eventually Monarchical and Republican Constitutionalism.
The dam had been broken and change was afoot. Some embraced the monarch, others the parliament. New ideas were born and many believed these were the genuine fruits of scientific and philosophical advance. They celebrated these developments as proper and necessary Kingdom advancements born of the freedom of the new Protestant Christendom as opposed to the reactionary tyranny of Rome. The English speaking world for the most part embraced Empiricism and this began to shape social and political thought. Many argue this epistemological reality combined with a somewhat complex combination of other factors unique to Britain led to the Industrial Revolution. Though there were aspects of simultaneity to the social 'revolution', it is almost undisputed that it began in Britain and this was a key factor in the ascendancy of the British Empire by the dawn of the 19th century. These were largely viewed as Christian developments, outworkings of progress, improvement, endeavour, harmony and industry... fruits of Protestant society. The resulting social changes necessarily led to further developments in the political order.
These lessons and motifs have largely been forgotten as today's Protestants have turned to the past and to revisionism, a theme I've been writing about a lot in recent years.
The French Revolution and Marxism further splintered Europe and figures like Abraham Kuyper tried to come up with new models and frameworks for Christian society and social ethics. In the 20th century thinkers like Van Til and Rushdoony began to offer vigorous criticisms of not only Enlightenment thought but many of the forms and assumptions that were born of the Age of Reason and the Post-Reformation era... ideas that had largely been embraced and endorsed by Protestants in the 17th-19th centuries. Van Til did this on more of a theoretical level in the realms of apologetics and systematic theology. Rushdoony and others took some of Van Til's ideas and tried to apply them to culture and politics... often in ways Van Til would not have approved of.
Regardless of the particulars, this intellectual revolution has generated some divisions with the Evangelical and Confessional world. While most of the people within these camps tend toward various expressions of Right-wing politics, there are sharp differences over method, extent and ethics.
For example with regard to Andrew White the political candidate under criticism in the Ball article, the sentiments in the article (as well as the link in the article) are not those of Reformed Two Kingdom theology. Those aren't the sort of things they are going to say and in fact most of them (I'm thinking of some of those affiliated with Westminster Seminary in California) still tend toward Right-wing positions. None of them would argue that a law is good simply because it passed democratic muster or expressed the cultural moment.
First we have to raise the question of whether or not candidate White is even being sincere or if this isn't just political posturing and equivocation. On the one hand it's refreshing to find someone (in Texas of all places) challenging some of the Right-wing assumptions that dominate Christian circles. On the other hand, his motivations (which despite Ball's perceptions) are clearly meant to be Christian, are (ironically) like Ball's... clearly in error. At the end of the day, no faithful Christian should be running for office, swearing oaths to man-made authorities and documents and embracing the state's necessary employment of violence. This is the contrast Paul is making in his argument that is unfortunately divided between what we call chapters 12 and 13 in the book of Romans. The artificial division has led to woeful confusion on this point.
I'm afraid in the end, all politicians are ultimately salesmen seeking power, a vile combination if ever there was one. And as is often the case on a practical level... the very people that shouldn't be allowed access to said power.
But let's assume White really believes what he's saying, that the law of the land is settled and that he shouldn't be imposing his Christian values on society. I said 'let's assume' but I really can't because again his other statements indicate that he views this seeking of office as connected to his Christian faith. Ball would be right to say he can't divorce the two but like Ball he will necessarily have to re-define Christianity in order to fill the post.
Once again to remain faithful to Christ and His Kingdom... he should have nothing to do with seeking power in Rome and Babylon.
The thing is both White and Ball have (through whatever philosophical means) accepted a host of ideas that are not in Scripture. Or to put it differently they have baptised and sanctified aspects of worldly thought and incorporated them into their theology. Ball would deny this but it's clear even in his short critique of White. His understanding of the social order and how to apply what he calls Biblical Law to it is built not on exegesis, but philosophical inference.
Like White, I'm sure Ball accepts Just War Theory, he probably advocates some form Market Capitalism and a host of other concepts that were developed in the context Western Civilisation... not from honest New Testament exegesis. Ball is a Confessionalist. The very methodology rests upon a prolegomena rooted in philosophical thought and categories. Confessionalists are quick to divorce themselves from the label 'Biblicist'. Confessionalism is virtually by definition an addition to and redefinition of Sola Scriptura.
White is no different and yet in his accepted narrative, and contrary to Ball, Western Classical Liberalism is a child of Christianity and the Reformation heritage. He could argue democracy, constitutional government and even the social contract are outworkings of Sola Fide and the place of the individual conscience. I don't agree with these positions but an argument can be made for them, one just as viable as what Ball is offering.