24 December 2011

FN Lee

*updated 24 December (evening)
Francis Nigel Lee has died. Most have probably not heard of him. He was something of a pariah even in Reformed circles. He talked about and was quite proud of the history of the Reformed Church in South Africa…a topic few wish to discuss, and consequently few Americans have any knowledge of.

I will grant FN Lee one thing, he was a consistent Sacralist. He excoriated Verduin and with Rushdoony and others realized the deep threat Two Kingdom non-Sacralist theology posed to their system and vision for the Church. The Anabaptists have always maintained a special place of condemnation in Reformed circles. It’s not so much about the issue of Baptism. That’s present, but many Reformed are Baptists as well. It’s really about their rejection of Sacralism, Dominionism, and Constantinianism. Though I’m not an Anabaptist, on these points I heartily agree with them, and maintain on these issues they are the maintainers and custodians of a key doctrine held by many Dissenters going back to the early Church.

In many ways this is one of the biggest issues in all of Church History. FN Lee understood this, he just came out on the wrong side…dreadfully wrong.

To my mind he was very consistent. He saw better than most the logic of tying Western culture in with Christianity…the whole concept of Christendom. Where he went further, and made many uncomfortable was when he went ahead and was brutally honest and tied in the concept of race with culture. They are hard to separate; Lee and others who label themselves Kinists rightly argue this. I don't know if he accepted the label, but theologically he was in agreement with them. The error is not in tying race to culture, but in thinking we can equate a culture with Christianity or the Kingdom. Once you do that…you’re bound to integrate the issue of race with your theology, if not on a theological level, then at least on a practical one. Most eschew even dealing with this. Lee and others embrace it. Many others fail to grasp the connection and thus miss the historical dangers this type of theology presents especially when combined with Imperialistic and Militaristic impulses.

Dominionism was the essence of South Africa’s segregation policies and played no small part in how whites treated American Indians and blacks as well. In South Africa it was perhaps a little more thought out and applied because the Reformed Church was so dominate in Afrikaner circles.

Lee maintained a strong presence in the Reformed cyber-world largely in his presence on Reformed discussion lists. I get the impression most of the time people were rolling their eyes or laughing at him. But he like all Theonomists raised questions which made Sacralists of all stripes uncomfortable. Sure he was a bit buffoonish at times and rather full of himself, but his position often represent the logical outworking of the Sacralist hermeneutic. Maybe that’s why he made people uncomfortable at times?

For those interested,

His muddled attack on Verduin. I’m a paedobaptist myself but I find FN Lee’s understanding of the issue to be horribly insufficient. In all his writings I find the same common errors present in all Theonomists…

Hyper-Systematics- philosophically constructing a coherent grid and imposing it on Scripture.

Rationalism- in this case referring to the tool they employ. It’s not anchored in empiricism like you might find among modern secularists. However it picks the Scriptures apart and re-orders them in a way contrary to the form in which they are revealed. Rules, essentially mathematical rules are imposed on the text, all metaphysical questions… and the Scriptures end up (I argue) being subjugated to an external criteria.

 Hyper-Calvinism- in this case referring to the tendency to work back to Election as the foundation of the entire systematic. Election and predestination (while absolutely true and Biblical concepts) end up dominating the whole of theology rather than maintain their place and function as revealed by God through the development of Redemptive-History. It overshadows much of what the Bible teaches regarding Covenant, Sacrament, the Church, the Christian life and Soteriology. Ironically though Lee rails against credo-baptists, theologically I would argue his understanding of the issues is actually a baptistic one.

Sacralist hermeneutics- the Babel Impulse, an affirmation of man’s desire to build a world empire and civilization and claim it has a divine mandate. Sacralists torture the text of Scripture looking for justifications of their arguments and positions. Oftentimes they end up completely inverting the meaning, symbolism, and import of much of the Bible.

In other words, all these positions taken together point to a large-scale massive misreading of the Bible.
And in addition to the Biblical and theological issues, the Sacralist hermeneutic also leads to an agenda driven (and I would argue necessarily skewed) historiography. It leads to a white-washing of crimes and atrocities, ethical casuistry in historical interpretation, and an almost willful blindness to the arguments, plights, and sufferings of others.
You can learn theology, you can attain many degrees and titles, and be quite proud of them…but you can still miss the basic message. The so-called Reverend, professor, doctor exhibits this.

This is why a person like Francis Nigel Lee remains important even in his death.


Anonymous said...

Excellent description of the problems of sacralism in this piece, Proto! I am more sympathetic to the Anabaptists even than you, and I do credit them with preserving the faith while standing against (and being slaughtered by) the constantinian death machines of the magisterial reformers and the catholics. Ironic that much of the founding principles of the U.S. are attributable to Anabaptist thought, especially freedom of religion and tolerance by a neutral state. I don't think many modern-day puritan-minded reformed christo-americans understand this; but mistakenly think their puritan forebears advocated for freedom of religion: NOT!
You ought to do a a history piece comparing and contrasting puritans and pilgrims.
Lee merely draws out the logical conclusions from sacralist reformed thought into far reaches that are uncomfortable, reaches that most reformed sacralists today do not want to venture into. But they would do well to realize where such theology ends up.


Proto said...

I think you're right. In the minds of many there is this perfect continuity between Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts Bay and Independence Hall. They're not the same and the Founders were motivated by a starkly different vision than the Puritans of New England. In many ways...an opposite view.

I've mentioned the Pilgrims and Puritans in a few pieces. It's a good idea to keep revisiting though. They were quite different. Generally speaking I like the Pilgrims....while I strongly dislike the New England Puritans. Sadly sheer numbers and time overwhelemed the Separatists of Plymouth. It took Roger Williams to re-capture and develop those ideas. Baptists today still look to him as a historical inspiration...but really for the most part they repudiate his ideas.

Yeah, that's the point I want to make about Lee. He at least was consistent. When you start equating Christianity with a culture...then suddenly yes, whether or not you eat with a fork determines if one is a Christian. And as we know from history it gets much darker than that.

Sorry I haven't responded to your emails. I'll get to them shortly. I'm afraid I got into the habit of not checking the box often enough. Glad your back.