07 March 2016

Inbox: Lutheranism, Kuyper and the Two Kingdoms

In terms of the differences between the confessional Lutheran position and my own maybe I can shed a little light, but I will be brief and paint with a broad brush. I'm also throwing a variant of Reformed Theology into the mix because I think it's pertinent and may shed a little light for some readers on a seemingly obscure point of dispute in contemporary Reformed circles.

Lutheranism of course holds to a form of Two Kingdom Theology but there are significant differences between their view and the view that I adhere to. Their view of Two Kingdoms legitimates the Secular City in a way mine does not. That said, my view does not delegitimise the City of Man but draws a sharp line of distinction between the Church and World, one significantly more pronounced then what is found in Lutheranism. It could be said they have a more positive view of the state and view it as contributing to the Kingdom but argue it cannot be explicitly identified with the Kingdom.

It is this latter point which keeps them from getting into deeper theological trouble though functionally I would also argue that it largely failed to ever be a reality in German society. From Augsburg's cuius regio, eius regio to the Prussian Union of 1817 to the later Kulturkampf, Lutheranism's record of applying the Two Kingdoms is a poor one indeed. We will omit an in-depth discussion of the dark developments that took place in the 20th century as they are complicated. Some protested the developments and resisted but most did not. I think it was largely in keeping with their notions of social conformity. This latter episode is misunderstood and a tool of manipulation in the hands of Dominionists that wish to denounce any form of Two Kingdom theology. Again I would argue it never actually functioned in Lutheranism. In the end, the Magisterial Reformation produced little more than a Protestant version of Sacralism, a new era and manifestation of Christendom.

My view is much closer to the Anabaptist understanding minus the legalism that often accompanies their separatism. I think Meredith Kline's views are probably helpful at this point. He provides some nuance and elaborates on the nature of the City of Man and our place in it in a way that differs from both Sacralists and the Hyper-Separatists. The doctrine of Common Grace is somewhat lacking in Anabaptist thought, though at this point I think Kline and even some of his adherents go too far in a positive attitude toward culture. In terms of the Church's position vis-à-vis the culture I lie somewhere between Kline and the cultural separatism of the early 20th century Fundamentalists.

They Lutherans see culture and the state as having a positive and contributive role while I tend to see it as little more than God's means of keeping man's depravity at bay. I would argue the rewarding of 'good' that's associated with the state in the New Testament is to be understood in the same way the Babylonian or Assyrian empires might reward it, or the Roman for that matter. It's not in a covenantal context as the overt Sacralists would have it. They of course go much further than the Lutherans.

At best the 'good' we're speaking of must be taken in a very generalised sense. We can speak of Natural Law but understanding that the formation of a Natural Theology is an exercise in futility and in the end only leads to reductionist misrepresentations of Revelatory truth. Natural Law is part of the means of restraint, but it's always imperfect and flawed and necessarily so.

In Reformed circles figures like Michael Horton more or less echo the Lutheran view on this point and several others. He and those associated with him are sometimes accused of being Crypto-Lutherans (Hidden or Secret Lutherans). The Two Kingdom Theology associated with Westminster West is also very similar to the Lutheran view. In fact they would identify their position as more or less 'The Reformation' view. There are differences of course, the legacy of Calvin, Knox and the Puritans. There are those in the Reformed heritage that can certainly dispute their claim. In fact Reformed theology more or less ended up embracing the Sacralist route... the covenanted society, the Kingdom by legislation etc... and the Two Kingdom view has come to be more or less rejected by many if not most in their circles. It's a raging debate but almost all of the Reformed with the exception of a very few would utterly repudiate my own views, denouncing them as separatist and leading to a Christian cultural ghetto.

In the context of growing secularisation (19th and early 20th centuries), we must also note Abraham Kuyper's particular influence and in more recent years the mixed and still debated legacy of Cornelius Van Til.

The vast majority of the Reformed would regard Kuyper as something of an ideal. This is true of both the overtly Sacralist and Crypto-Lutheran camps. Both embrace Kuyper but both insist he represents their particular framework. I think the Horton/Westminster West crowd probably has probably made a more correct assessment of him. A complicated and sometimes contradictory figure he was the ostensibly Christian statesman who viewed the secular calling of being prime minister equal to his calling to pastor a church and lead a denomination.

I totally repudiate that view and Kuyper is a figure that I do not think worthy of esteem regardless of one's reading of him. In fact I think he's one of the great villains of the modern church. I recall reading (with eagerness) his much touted 'Stone Lectures' given during his visit to Princeton in 1898. I found them to be full of historical and theological errors and I immediately grew suspect of him and the fellow students and professors so eager for me to read his works. I was indeed affected by Kuyper but not in the way those that had recommended him to me would have wished. In fact it was at that point that I started to re-think many of the salient issues and began my gradual departure from identify with the Reformed. My reading of the Stone Lectures was something of a watershed. The gnawing doubts became an open wound that I sought to remedy. It took many years to work things out but in a sense I can thank Kuyper for being a catalyst.

His shadow looms large over figures from Rushdoony to Francis Schaeffer and by refraction over the whole of modern Dominionistic Evangelicalism. His ideas were broad and brought about very different results depending on the context. He influenced Dutch politics but also greatly influenced the architects of Apartheid South Africa. Even among his familial descendants (Kuyper died in 1920) there were those who sheltered Jews and those who joined the Waffen-SS. While I can't 'blame' Kuyper for some of these negative associations, his ideas blur the line of antithesis and confused the Church vis-à-vis the culture.

Kuyper taught a notion of antithesis, something the Lutherans seem to lack. Yet, his notion of antithesis is almost a political concept. He wants to note the difference between Christian and non-Christian thinking. This is not so Christians can maintain their identity as strangers and pilgrims but instead to mark the difference so that as we apply our influence upon society and seek to conquer the culture we will be able to maintain our identity.  It's a clash of the worldviews and yet I would argue that worldview teaching (a la Kuyper) in fact denies the antithesis and has already capitulated to the world and its lusts. The Kuyperian notion of antithesis is something of a fraud and is wholly overshadowed by his other theological impulses.

The Lutherans don't have a Kuyper per se, but the view easily resonates with their Two Kingdom paradigm. The Reformed version represents a greater development and more intellectually robust version of the idea. I would imagine the Lutherans wish they would have had such a figure in 19th century Germany, one that might have provided leadership for the Lutheran churches which had completely merged with German culture. They have a few figures but none as comprehensive in their outlook or as far reaching as Kuyper.

When compared to overt Dominionism and in particular the Theonomic varieties of it, there seems to be a resemblance in the Lutheran and Westminster-West views vis-à-vis my own. The resemblance is superficial. They are Sacralists minus the official legislative aspect. In Reformed circles the debate is between the Kuyperian Two Kingdom folks and the overtly Sacralist camps. From my standpoint both factions (and their numerous and variegated sub-groups) are on the wrong side of the line and the difference is simply one of degree and emphasis rather than anything foundational.

The Lutherans strongly emphasize the concept of Vocation. Kuyper of course did as well and while there are great similarities there are nuanced differences. Kuyper emphasized the notion of Sphere Sovereignty. It's a completely extra-Scriptural concept, but a nice bit of speculative deduction worked out from a Sacralist axiom. He worked out a doctrine of Vocation within that framework. On this point Kuyper clearly breaks with Theonomists and those explicitly committed to a 'Christian' country. His view on this point is somewhat similar to Catholic Social Teaching as well as the notion embraced by some Evangelicals that Christians should be a component in the society, should have a place at the table, a role to play in upholding the structure. Some adopt this view in principle and others as a pragmatic compromise, a tactic to counter growing secularisation. What's sometimes decried as 'retreat' by the hardliners is for some the ideal. Ironically though the Theonomists wish to 'claim' him, this pluralist view was more akin to Kuyper's own.

A more explicit form of Dominionism, borrowing from the other side of Kuyper is candid in their idea that the task of the Church is to take power. They often employ the famous statement of Kuyper wherein he declares that Christ is sovereign over every aspect of society and existence and that declares all of it as 'mine'. For many like Pat Robertson, DJ Kennedy, and now figures like Kevin Swanson etc... this is the part of Kuyper they like to run with and he has greatly influenced them.

Taken prima facie it sounds obvious, something every Christian should agree with. But it's not that simple and in fact in Kuyper's framework it's absolutely devastating to the antithesis of the Church with the world and our understanding of how to live in This Present Age. Kuyper like all Christian Sacralists has a very deformed concept of the New Covenant and what it means that God's people are in Covenant with Him and His Holy Nation... in a way the world is not. It's strange but in the same way the theological liberals assert the universal Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man, the Dominionists fall into the same error. They want to insist that the Covenant is universal rather than understand that in the New Testament God's people are a suffering remnant, peculiar, set apart, a little flock of martyrs. They are in Covenant with God, not the culture at large. Likewise in the Old Testament while pagan nations are denounced by the prophets in general moral terms, they are never rebuked for failing to uphold the Levitical code, the Sabbath or any of the ordinances associated with the covenant. They were not under the Mosaic Law.

The Lutheran view seems (to me) to be a bit more basic. It's not so much tied in with notions of Cultural Mandate or Dominion but instead seems to justify and legitimize social conformity. Society is legitimate and therefore since society comes up with a myriad of different tasks, offices and disciplines, the doctrine of Vocation is a way to Christianise these various tasks.... without necessarily creating an explicitly Christian social order.

I would argue we do our jobs as Christian people but in many cases the actual work itself is not explicitly Christian but falls under the category of that which will be destroyed at the end of the age. The job is not a holy vocation. It's a job, a means to an end. It does not build the Kingdom of God. We as Christians build it by the Spirit and Word, not with hammers, computers, violins or courtrooms. According to the New Testament our only calling or vocation is to be Christians. What I do on this earth to live and support my family may be something I enjoy (or not) but it's not something holy or eternal. That kind of detachment certainly should affect how we think about work, time, money and status.

Horton and those associated with him take it a step further than the Lutherans. The secular is legitimate so as Christians we ought to produce the best art, science, politics etc... They are very much against Separatism and to me their professed antithesis seems to remain on the theoretical even superficial level. They seem to argue that we (as Christians) have different motivations and thought processes than unbelievers as we jointly contribute to the City of Man. We help them and in a sense they help us. We just understand it all differently than the unbeliever but in God's grand plan, we all play our part.

I do not agree with this kind of thinking. I would say we help in the sense of keeping the peace but we also bear witness against them. Our help and participation are very limited. The only sense in which the world helps us is in providing (hopefully) a peaceful social order wherein we can live and bear witness to the truth. Though the world doesn't know it (as they build their version of Babel) the only reason they are avoiding Divine Wrath is because God is longsuffering and giving them a chance (as it were) to repent. He's delaying the impending Judgment. That does not provide a real positive outlook for the City of Man nor does it warrant a great deal of investment on our part. This is where I will sound more like a Fundamentalist who sees little point in polishing brass on a sinking ship. That's a caricature to be sure. We're to pray for the peace of Babylon and do our part to help that peace exist... but it's still just Babylon isn't it?

They cannot 'help' us and apart from peaceful streets the City of Man has very little to offer to us.

Of course I completely reject the Protestant doctrine of Vocation. To me it was simply a means to retain a form of Constantinianism in its Post-Papal disintegrated form. The Scriptural doctrine of Vocation refers to our calling to be Christians, our heavenly calling, our status as strangers and pilgrims in this age. It's a call to antithesis. These other variations use it as a means to justify and rationalise participation and collaboration with the world. They promote 'Vocation' but their understanding of it actually destroys our distinct calling, the Vocation of Scripture.

I don't know whether the Reformed or Lutheran view is worse. The Lutheran/conformist view has a very poor record indeed and the Reformed view fundamentally changes the outworking of eschatology, ethics and the nature of the Kingdom. One camp will go along with the trouble while the other makes it. Instead we should refuse to participate and denounce it. We should never give in nor try to co-opt the City of Man. It's always a case of 'Us and Them' but apart from our testimony we should give them no reason to wish violence against us. Thus when they do resort to violence we glorify God in our imitation of Christ but also we further condemn them. Modern Evangelicals falling afoul of the law are victims of political backlash and revenge... not persecution. They live by the sword (in its various forms) and then are offended when it is taken up by their enemies.

In addition to the issues of the Kingdom and Vocation I take exception to the Lutheran Law-Gospel hermeneutic. I find it to be artificial, contrived and the result of the particularly Lutheran understanding of Justification by Faith Alone.

Once again in Reformed circles the Michael Horton/ Modern Reformation/ Whitehorse Inn Radio and Westminster-West factions are closest to the Lutheran view.

That said I strongly believe in a Law-Gospel distinction in terms of Redemptive History. At this point we're not speaking of a differentiation between commands and promise though that comes into play, but instead a distinction between epochs and covenants in the form that God structured the history and development of salvation.

Too often Covenant Theology is expressed in Monocovenantal terms. The concept is used to unify the Bible but at the expense of the distinctions and development and thus in some cases the fulfillment and abrogation of previous types, shadows and symbols.

The Lutheran structure makes Justification the Centraldogma, the centerpiece of a theological structure, the very heart of Christianity. It does this in concert with a rather bogus interpretation of Church history. The Covenant view more common in Reformed circles all too often makes Election or even Sovereignty the Centraldogma. The doctrines themselves are all worthy of praise to be sure but Scripture presents Christ as the central focus of Scripture and it is through the lens of the Incarnation that we are to understand salvation, the Kingdom as well as questions like the relationship between the covenants. We cannot allow Justification to override or trump the whole counsel of Scripture and/or impose a grid on it. At that point the 'grid' is not the result of a Biblical hermeneutic but instead a philosophical deduced system resulting from the central doctrine.

Christocentricity allows us to rightly read and relate the various portions of Scripture, understand the nature of theological structure and discourse and it helps us to place Salvation in various contexts of continuity and discontinuity. We can understand the law-grace distinctions, the numerous dynamisms between Old and New Covenants, the typological and didactic frameworks of Redemptive-History, the limits of human reason and conception, the two-fold nature of the Kingdom, life within it, the Christian life existing in multiple tenses and tensions and the nature of saving faith. Christocentricity also sharpens our focus with regard to the Eschaton and keeps us from aberrations and distractions whether Dispensational or Dominionist.

Lutheranism has a different concept of Sola Scriptura. They view it is a starting point, perhaps something of a restraint but its authority is not absolute or comprehensive. They have a very different understanding of the historico-theological narrative. They embrace Christendom and in many ways the general historical development of Latin/Roman Christianity up to 1517. They wanted to reform not break with Romanism. And yet their desire to reform was even less than that of the 'Reformed' or Calvinist wing of the Reformation that insisted on a much more penetrating and thorough evaluation and expurgation.

Though in many ways the Reformed also failed to cut out the Roman cancer and I'm not speaking (as many would) at this point of paedobaptism. Rather I am speaking of Sacralism and Scholasticism, both of which quickly crept back into the newly formed Magisterial Reformation. And in that context, yes, even Biblical doctrines like paedobaptism were subject to sacral abuse.   

Despite these criticisms there is much to appreciate about conservative Lutheranism. An old friend of mine was raised in the LCMS and was later ordained into that denomination. As a Missouri-Synod zealot he was always somewhat critical of the Wisconsin Synod which LCMS members tend to view as separatist and pietistic. One has to look into the formation of the LCMS to understand some of this.

I'm afraid on many points I always found myself sympathising more with the Wisconsin synod viewpoint. My friend was always very hostile to Pietism but I never felt like he was giving it a fair assessment, or even understanding it for that matter.

The LCMS has a reputation of worldliness and while I don't doubt there are some godly folk in their ranks I think the label is probably a fair one. Their particular spin on the doctrine of Justification and their peculiar Law-Gospel hermeneutic have at times led to rank antinomianism.

If an LCMS congregation was my only option I would certainly consider attending it though I would by no means agree with or appreciate much of what was happening. Their liturgy focuses more on ritual than Word. Their sermons tend to be brief and fairly weak. That said, they're strong on the Sacraments, Amillennial, and for good or ill they are definitely free of legalism.

Sometimes the Wisconsin and Missouri Synods are compared to the relationship between the PCA and OPC. The PCA is broad and larger while the OPC is very small and a bit more focused. That said, while I may in some ways appreciate Sunday morning worship more in an OPC, on a practical level it's probably easier to get along (when you're a little different) in the broader more Evangelical PCA. I've been a member in both but I can also say that I have no interest in attending either ever again.

As far as Issues Etc....

I check the show notes every day and if something strikes me as interesting I download it and listen to it the next day. I do this maybe once every couple of weeks. I keep coming back because the show can be interesting and there's a little more thoughtfulness and nuance to their positions and guests compared with what I often find. That said many of the guests are bad, ill-informed and/or promoting error. Some are downright awful and like the rest of the Christian Right and Christian Radio worlds there are some guests and opinions that are just fraudulent. Obviously I take strong exception to Ed Meese. I would also add figures like Alvin Schmidt, Robert Spencer and Mark Hemingway. I often enjoy Terry Mattingly and find John W. Montgomery to be interesting.

I often enjoy their criticisms of mainstream evangelicalism and yet even while enjoying said criticisms I usually disagree with their take as well.

It is a sometimes intelligent and informative but often disappointing but more thoughtful and restrained form of Christian Right radio.