Monday, July 23, 2018

The Sting of the Law is Sin: William Law and the Covenant of Works

Here is a section from William Law's work Of Justification by Faith and Works: A Dialogue Between a Methodist and a Churchman (1760). Law is a research interest of mine, and I think somewhat misunderstood. The section below comes from a work in which Law criticizes the Methodists (primarily George Whitfield and his followers) through a dialog format. The below is "Churchman" explaining why Methodist's focus on sola fide misconstrues the biblical evidence. Here's the text:

[Just-81] Gospel-salvation, is on God's part, a covenant of free grace and mercy, and cannot possibly be anything else; on man's part, it is wholly a covenant of works, and cannot possibly be anything else. For the sake of works, man was that which he was by his creation: for the sake of works, he is all that is, by his redemption. Works are the life of the creature, and he can have no life better or worse than his works that which he does, that he is.

[Just-82] THIS DO AND THOU SHALT LIVE, is the Law of Works, which was from the beginning, is now, and always will be, the one Law of Life. And whether you consider the Adamical, patriarchal, legal, prophetic, or gospel-state of the church, DOING is ALL. Nothing makes any change in this. Nay, it is not only the one law of all men on earth, but of all angels in heaven. And this as certainly, as our best and highest prayer is this, "thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven."

[Just-83] "This do, and thou shalt live," was the only Law of Life given to Adam in paradise. Adam could not have been capable of this law, but because the divine nature, or a birth of Christ within him, was his first created state. No law of doing God's will could have been given to, or received by any of his posterity, but because a seed of the first divine life, or Christ in man, was by God's free grace and mercy, preserved and continued in Adam, and secured to all his posterity, as a redeeming seed of the woman, which through all ages of the church, should continue bruising the head of the serpent, till this first seed of life became a God incarnate, with all power in heaven and on earth, to restore original righteousness, and to raise again in fallen man, that first birth of himself, which was in Adam before he fell; this was the one power that he gave them to become sons of God.
Now let me explain the peculiarity of Law's explication. He had begun to read, and became fascinated with, the German mystic Jacob Boehme. Law was not a slavish devote, and modified the use of Behmen terms and phrases. In a way, Law reflects, in a very different way, Luther's similar use of the same mystical tradition, in the work of Johannes Tauler and the Theologica Germanica, which Luther never fully disavowed. It's present in his counter-claim against Erasmus in The Bondage of the Will of man being like a horse that is either rode by Christ or the Devil. Law utilizes the same expression in the work to explain how not only faith justifies, but that faith and works justifies together, and separately. Law would say that the faith alone justifies, works alone justifies, and faith and works justify. For Law, a faith that emerged from a Human will, without union with Christ, was just as worthless as Human works that did not flow from Christ, and vice versa.

When Law talks about Christ in man, he is again utilizing the mystic tradition, but in a way that has avoided the pantheistic implication that crowd around Boehme's mystic visions. Like Origen, Law is simply saying that all of the saints, before and after the incarnation of Jesus Christ, were holy by being in communion with the Word of God. There was no separate righteousness available to the Jews before the Messiah's appearance. Whether we understand this point as a retroactive effect of Christ's work, stretching forward and backwards in time, or we understand that Christ had always been forming a people around Himself, saving them through communion and conformity in different episodes of covenantal history, it still highlights that Christ is the protagonist in all of Scripture, who make and break the whole cast of characters through their encounters with Him.

Having said all of that, I still have reservations about Law's way of approaching this issue. His attack on the Methodists was targeting what he saw as cheap-grace and a reductionist approach to faith. I'm not saying his method is the easiest to communicate without a whole load of confusing baggage. However, Law's approach in this text is an interesting way of approaching the distinction between the Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace within Reformed theology.

I've not spent much time on these issues, but I've always found the Covenant of Works concept a bit eisegetical. I have a hard time understanding how God's command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is a full-blown covenant, let alone a distinctly separate issue from what comes after. While Romans 5 shows the significance of the Adam-Christ typology, and the importance of the first three chapters for Scripture, Adam rarely appears again. To call the Mosaic Covenant a republication seems odd. For God's commands to Adam do not seem self-evident to suppose a works-principle that is somehow at odds, or distinct, from the grace of Adam's inheritance of paradise. And the Mosaic Covenant is not all works: it includes gracious provisions that look away from obedience. To me, it seems that every covenant is a wing or an unfolding of the Abrahamic covenant, which only was put in opposition to Moses when the Law, which is spiritual, was handled by carnal men. But I won't broach the question of how Paul understands the relationship between Abraham and Moses here. Suffice to say that I'm skeptical of drawing too thick of a division.

And yet the approach of monocovenantalism, as it has been understood in Reformed theology, has tended to reduce any differentiation in Scripture. It usually becomes a bulwark of theonomy and postmillenialism, two noxious doctrines that I abhor. What Law's set-up does is to highlight a point I've made elsewhere, which is that distinction between works-principle and grace is most fully clear in light of the Messiah. The promise of a Coming One throughout Scripture was always a gestures towards the inability, the backsliding, and failure of Israel. While it is true that God's passing through twice in His covenant with Abraham signified that He would take upon the responsibilities for both parties, it was still a covenant. Abraham was still the party, even if he was merely promised a kind of failure. He will die, and his children will be in exile, but then, in the second stage, they are promised victory over all the evil nations inhabiting the Land. When the sign of the Seed arrives, Isaac's circumcision comes with a promised command that Abraham shall obey the covenant, him and his children, circumcising their children. Here is a conjunction of the division apparent in Moses: there is a path of life and death. But for Abraham, who sets the stage, it is a promised "death", the going down into shadowy Egypt, that will precede the rising up of "life", victory over the nations. In circumcision, the scarring of male reproductive organ symbolizes the process.

Without the Spirit, and thus being unspiritual, the Torah only condemns flesh. But in the Spirit, the same Spirit who raised Christ and is promised to us for the same, the Law becomes something else. Hence, Christ takes upon the role of the Prophet, bringing about a new covenant, sealed in His blood, and a new Torah. Now new does not signify so much temporal advancement, but an eternally appearing phenomenon. Unlike the Mosaic Covenant, it is not passing away. But it is not a second covenant, but a new covenant. The Messiah did not come to abolish Torah, but to fulfill it. There is a transfiguration of the Torah, where the lesser lights of Moses and Elijah are swallowed up in the greater light, a scene that St. Peter bears witness to on Mt. Tabor.

The principle of works is what is clear when we have yet to receive the fullness. We are called to do this and live, even though our process of doing is marred and ineffective. The Messiah fulfills the Torah in not only keeping it completely, but completing it, in such a full and effective manner that St. Paul can say that the Torah was nailed to the cross, the condemnation of sin in the flesh, and its ultimate nullification. Law's conceptualization of the problem may sound legalistic, synergistic, and self-help, seemingly erasing the need to rely on Christ. But like Origen, and even Luther in some of his writings, he does no such thing, because he grounds the Christian need to work, even to be justified by work, in the prior communion with Christ. None of these works are our own efforts, but Christ working in us, in the power of the Spirit, to grow fruit in our own lives. Without the Spirit, God's Law stands over and against us, our sin justly meriting His wrath. And yet, the problem is not to get rid of God's wrath, but go through it in One who is able to take up sin and bring down destruction upon it. For Christ was not punished, but received the punishment due for sin. He was guiltless, but, like the goats on the atonement, both bore the sin away from the people, and also died in the flesh and rose in the Spirit.

Outside of Christ, the Covenant, even as gracious arrangements, leave us condemned. And that's the point. For they not only showed up Israel's failures, but the problem of flesh in a sinful world. Cut off from eternal life, it turns even God's gifts into vicious weapons of destruction. And yet, at the same time, these covenants contain stipulated promises, setting up a riddle for the future. Who, indeed, will walk the path of life? Who is the Prophet who will come after, and be greater, than Moses? Who will be able to uphold Israel's side of the Covenant? I don't know how significant it is, but in Hebrew all imperatives are future-tense second person verbs. "You will not lie" can be construed as both a daunting command, showing up our failures, but also as a promised future state. Even as Israel is mired in sin, God does not give up, but retains His remnant for His purposes.

William Law may not be the most gracious figure. He was a rather austere and exacting figure, and yet he did not spiral into the kind of despair that constantly afflicted John Wesley, who had read and respected Law. Wesley's perfectionism really does smack of legalism and a kind of Pelagian effort, consistently unable to be sure he was a Christian at times. Law, as far as I know, never suffered with these anxieties, and I don't think it's because he thought he arrived or something. Rather, I think it's because Law saw this otherwise merciless command as something promised, and working itself out in his life, through Christ in Him, the hope of glory. Boehme's mysticism, in Law's use, offered a check from anxiety to find salvation in his works, the same kind of anxiety that afflicted various Calvinists in their assessment of their faith. In Christ, the command "Do This and Live!" is a cause of joy; for with Christ, the Torah becomes a possible impossibility and actualized in the flesh, despite our sins. Christ's work is re-presented in our lives, where our baptism is the sign of the promise. Christ will fulfill the Law in us, because He has in His ow work. Since Christ removed the sting of the sin, the Torah ceases to be a curse, though, as Hebrews reminds us, .

I don't know of any of this helps, but I found it an interesting way to appreciate not only some deep currents in Church history, but a way to avoid both the problems of antinomianism and legalism. Take it for what it's worth.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

War of the Lamb, or the Christian Agonism in Metaphysics

One important component of George Berkeley's idealist philosophy is its common-sense empiricism. What I mean is that Berkeley seems to hit the nuclear option when he denies the existence of matter, cutting the knot that Descartes had established and Locke struggled with. On the face of it this approach seems radically bizarre. What do you mean matter doesn't exist? But as I've stated elsewhere, Berkeley was rejecting an explicitly non-empirical phenomenon that philosophers granted a logical existence to explain the mind-body problem. The point is pretty simple: our minds impose upon a reality a certain level of coherence and order. When I look at a table, it presupposes I see a table, a logically imposed concept that is able to distinguish some matter from others. I can tell a wooden table from a wooden floor, that they're two different things even if they're made of the same 'stuff'. Instead of claiming the existence of "nature" or "matter", an autonomous zone of self-imposing order, Berkeley lays down the Will of God as the explanation for ultimate coherence of the world, the Mind (or in Berkeley's terms, "spirit") that comprehends all minds.

Thus, while Berkeley can seem to rest his philosophy on what seems to be a kind of fideism, he's really just pulling the rug on philosophy. It can't answer ultimate questions without becoming theology; there is no middle zone between God's will and the ordered way we experience things. Philosophy can explain our experiences, but that's it. Anything more is only sneaking theology in the backdoor, which usually is some sort of pagan rooted theological apparatus.

While Berkeley's philosophy does not disprove some components of how the patristic authors utilized ancient philosophy, he sets the issues in much starker terms. In a sense, Berkeley's philosophy radically destabilizes the quasi-theological underpinnings of much ancient philosophy that formed the backbone of Medieval theology and philosophy. And this point is very important, because it ascribes the natural order as something not separate, but constitutive or possessed by the Mind of God, namely Christ.

However, the patristic era attempted, in some ways, to depend upon a much more stable concept of metaphysics. And I get it. The historic context was hot controversy, and the quest to achieve a fixed grammar offered a kind of panacea. However, in doing so, it not only created new extra-scriptural standards for orthodoxy, it made Hellenistic metaphysics, in whatever attenuated form that it took, a prerequisite for the Gospel. It's quite telling that the neo-Palamite Georges Florovsky believed, quite seriously, that Hellenism was essential to the Christian faith. Without schooling in Plato or Aristotle, the Scriptures lacked completion, and that the Fathers synthesized biblical revelation with Hellenic philosophy to form the basis of the faith. Hence, Florovsky saw the history of Russian theology as the abandonment of its Byzantine heritage for its own parochial peculiarities, ultimately culminating in the cult of the state. These Muscovite tendencies underwent further revision when Peter the Great utilized his obsequious bishops to import Western (mainly German) methods and doctrines into the Church. Florovsky saw this moment as the zenith of betrayal and the lowest ebb for Orthodoxy's Byzantine purity. Christianity's appearance in the Hellenic world was providence, and the two needed to ever remain together.

In the West, the progression was different, but a similar metaphysics became standard for the Gospel. Whether it was Aristotelian or Platonic, or some kind of fusion, many labored under these elements to articulate and understand the Gospel. Sometimes it meant suppressing strange and rough edges found in Scripture. This sentiment is most clear in the kind disgust someone like Cardinal Newman had for the Israelite patriarchs and saints, who crudely saw their anthropomorphic God of jealousy and wrath as the bearer of temporal goods. They could not understand the Beatific Vision in their materialistic quest for their own vine to sit under. Newman set up a false dichotomy, but the concept was that the metaphysics of the Greeks showed a far superior spirituality than the Jews of old. This sentiment is very old, clear enough in someone like Clement of Alexandria, who attributed revelation to the best Greek philosophers as a means to explain how they were true. They were prophets to the Gentiles.

The concept of a stable metaphysical platform is basic for many Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox stalwarts, especially the latter. If you want to accept the Apostolic Faith, you have to firmly grasp the metaphysics behind the grammar of the ecumenical councils. It's not enough to explain that the underlying point is true, but that the grammar itself must become normative. While the Arians, in all their stripes and varieties, were wrong, we should not brush aside the uneasiness with many bishops over the use of non-biblical terminology. They blanched at the claim that homoousious was a binding term; they demanded to know where this phrase was used in Scripture. Again, I think Athanasius was correct in his battles, and that the logic of the homoousios is fundamentally correct, and useful, to understanding the trinitarian grammar of Scripture (i.e. that Jesus is both God and not God; derivative and yet wholly equal). And yet, the caution is still warranted. Athanasius and his successors had to nail down a whole host of terms, giving them specific definitions, that created as much order as chaos. A lot of confusion emerged from the use of 'hypostasis', and not only because the Greek word has multiple connotations. When it was translated into Latin, it opened a whole new box of problems. It was translated both as 'substantia' and as 'persona', both of which could be valid translations, but had their own different, and wide, semantic possibilities. Quickly, the Athanasian specifics of the 'homoousios' were built upon, and the key points were sublimated, forgotten, or quietly erased. Thus, while it's absolutely true to say that orthodox Christian doctrine is trinitarian, that only papers over substantial differences. As any good Eastern polemicist would tell you: there can never be unity until the Latins renounce the Filioque.

And in some ways: we're back to square one with a kind of Babel-curse over our theological grammar. We can be saying the same things and have very different meanings. I'm saying all of this not to throw my hands up in despair, or wallow (or celebrate) in some epistemic chaos that befits the self-imploding late modern spirit. What I'm saying is that turning councils from guiding wisdom into binding chains does not solve the problem. And, perhaps worse, it might accidentally shackle us to an order that is false.

Here I want to draw upon Leithart's exegesis of St. Paul. Paul spends some time in his letters talking about "nature" in a way that most metaphysical Christians would find sloppy if not flat out wrong. Paul will speak of those who are Jews "by nature", kata physein, which in most translations is "by birth", which really doesn't make sense. Why? Because one is not born a Jew, but must be convenantally received through the rites of circumcision, as well as being socially recognized. Patrimony is not so much a biological fact, but a sociological assessment, or cooperation with, biological facts. But here Paul refers to this sociological arrangement as "nature" and, hence, people can live "against nature", as Paul explains in the beginning of Romans. The point Paul is not making is some quasi-biological claim. Christians since the 19th century began down this road, trying to marry biblical claims to some autonomous and self-evidently empirical natural order, which has only backfired. As critics are keen to point out: "homosexual" acts are present in the animal kingdom, and thus are "natural". Clearly that point is not what Paul is making, because his exposition of sins effects in Romans 1 and 2 is the downward spiral towards a beast-like nature. It's not the brute fact that it exists in "nature", but that it is not befitting for man to be as a beast or a tree or a rock, all consequence of idolatry.

Paul does not seem to utilize a Platonic or Aristotelian definition of nature as some array of forms, whether inductively or deductively discovered. However, like the ancients, Paul does not divide the social and civil from the "natural". Like Aristotle's dictum that man is a political animal, the existence of Human sociality and political arrangements is something natural. But Paul roots the absolute claims of Human nature in a fundamental ordering of God's will. It's not arbitrary because Creation reflects its Creator, possessing the logic of the Logos in the way He saw fit. And yet, the Fall represented the dis-ordering of nature. Thus one can possess a nature not befitting for what he is. While "sin-nature" is a mistranslation, it partially reflects the concept that nature is rather malleable. As Leithart rightly recognizes: Paul's use of nature does not reflect some autonomous middle world, but the eternal intentions of God's will, either in a positive sense, or in a negative permission of evil to flourish (i.e. the handing over of people to their desires).

To reiterate, the patristic era was not in some Hellenistic captivity, though certain authors reflect an inability to reject the main currents of philosophy. As an example, Athanasius' Life of Antony describes that Antony's time in the desert, and growth in his communion with Christ, resulted in his gaining a physis logikon, sometimes translated as "rational nature", but clearly with connotations of Christ, the Logos. Perhaps awkwardly, it's best translated as "wordy nature" (as John Behr as explicated). Antony's "nature" had changed, something that becomes increasingly foreign and sloppy to later ecumenical councils. By Chalcedon physis has become a technical term, one that ultimately rent the eastern churches, first splitting the Syrians off from Byzantium and Alexandria, and then cutting Alexandria off from Byzantium. And even now, there are still debates on what exactly Nestorius taught, whether Theodore of Mopsuestia was a heretic or not, and whether Chalcedon, and especially Leo's Tome, was a faithful recapitulation of Cyril of Alexandria or not, among others.

Again, there's no need to eject the Patristic era, but to see how trying to crystalize grammar does little to prevent division (sometimes it seems to preempt it or cause it), or really even get at the deeper meaning. And, on top of it, the metaphysizing of the Gospel has only wedded the Church to civil orders that become retroactively justified through stable terminology. As the typological whore, churches strutted before emperors wearing the slutty attire of Romanitas. This method has only continued in various garbs and before various clients. The Medieval world saw a sacralization of the Feudal order, where peasants were ground to dust as fat prelates and thuggish knights lived off their backs. While later Renaissance figures, utilizing newly acquired ancient texts, began to theorize neo-Pagan attempts to forge Christianity into a better and more fitting civil religion, it was grounded in a prior Feudal political order that was sufficiently divinized, but insufficiently ordered and free of conflict. Bishops and kings still could vie for power, and the Pope's increasingly imperial presence threatened to reconstitute the balance of power. The bishop of Rome's gamble on a new empire in Achan paid off, as the bishop developed into the pope we know today. It was in this context that not only did Machivelli began to rethink the role of religion, but millenarians like Savanarola (Machiavelli's countryman) sought to turn the world upside down in a reign of the godly. We may say that he misunderstood the Gospel, but it was the same engine for a godly commonwealth (though, perhaps ultimately Satanic in its unveiling) that made Luther take the world by storm. The Word of God grounded all things, and the preaching of the Gospel could, in the ears of many, shake loose the static metaphysics of Europe.

While the millenarians like John of Leiden, the Fifth Monarchists, and many others, may be typological fulfillments of the Lamb with the voice of a dragon, their appearance as a lamb signified how Christ's entrance into cosmos overthrew all metaphysical orders of stability. All Babel projects, all attempts to build a "portal to the gods" (literally Babylon), depend upon trying to draw out a conclusive order and hierarchy. They build their own "nature", which the proclamation of Christ ultimately unthrows. What was the normative cycles of the cosmos were nothing more but unnatural aberrations, suppression of the truth and a perversion downwards into something, according to Scripture, that is a- or anti-human. It's not an all or nothing formula, as Scripture clearly reveals processes of maturation and degradation, with some of the Nations better or worse off down the line of Human corruption. But, and this point is key, the normative judgement does not emerge from "nature" simpliciter, as if it something easily read off of the face of things. No, Scripture must provide a pair of spectacles (in Calvin's image) which shows us the true state of things (e.g. all of creation is good but in bondage; corrupt, but yearning for redemption).

In a way, the movies Snowpiercer and Blade Runner 2049, which I've discussed elsewhere, highlight in a sci-fi thought experiment the attempt to radically break with the imposed "nature" of a given order. Blowing up the train is, analogously, the War's Lamb on the false natures, those social realities and hierarchies that dominate us and in which we are constituted and trapped. While the fullness of Human life is yet to be fully actualized, it is fully available in the life of the pilgrim people of God. Walking in step with the Spirit, the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead, we reveal both the promise of a coming age and the judgement on this age. We present a nature that is "wordy", which in its full revelation, reveals a crucified, risen, and ascended Logos, who had taken on flesh, became a man, and "tabernacled" among us. The Gospel puts all metaphysical reality into the scarred hands of a person, namely the Word of God, which flow from Him. For He is none other than the Wisdom of God, the Architect who created all things, the Mind who created all minds, the Order that makes sense of all things. Berkeley thus presented a distinctly Christian philosophy, for it is a veritable stripping of the altars of philosophy.

In part, the War of the Lamb is a plundering of the Egyptians, but whatever gold is stolen is melted down for other purposes. All attempts to enthrone Pharaoh, with his court-magicians, prove to be nothing, for Moses' rod will eat all of their serpents. Not only are all philosophies radically subordinated to Christ and His Kingdom, but, as underpinnings to given social orders (whatever they may be), all social relations for Christians must conform to the revealed order of things. In contrast to some comparative schemas, Christ is not the true climax to all the world's myths, legends, and religions, but a revelation that proves them all bankrupt. We read nature back from the ascension and resurrection; for we know what we are from the revelation of what had been accomplished. Because we have abiding life, we know how to face death. Since we know the Savior of the World, we can see Him as a Creator.

In Christ, the seals are finally unleashed, the books opened, and the glory of wisdom unveiled.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Two Kingdoms Theology and Nazis

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEdnwpo28NM

The above video is a lecture from Alec Ryrie about the German-Christian/Positive Christianity movement before, and during, the Nazi regime. It's worth the listen. The main, and stinging, point Ryrie makes is that while the Nazis did have an anti-Christian agenda, a super-majority of leaders in German Protestantism attempted to persuade the regime to accept them. The state-churches, with the exception of 3, elected Positive Christianity leadership and supported the regime. There's even the absolutely degrading and humiliating story of the ecclesiastical leadership of Berlin swearing an oath offering absolute fealty to the Fuhrer, only to be rejected as being too craven. The point, and it's a dark one, is that German Protestants pursued Nazism even when the regime was openly cold and indifferent to them. While the Nazis never reached the proper zenith to dismantle the churches, they had already begun the process of incorporation and disintegration. At the same time, Protestant pastors still hoped National Socialism would bring a revival to their churches.

And this point applies even to the Confessing Church, which emerged from the 3 state-churches that did not elect German-Christian leadership. They rejected the radical attempt to gut the "Jewish" portions of Scripture, acclaim Jesus as a Gentile, or offer unconditional surrender to the regime. And yet, the Confessing Church was, with few exceptions, still positive about the Nazi regime and supported them as a bulwark against atheistic communism and materialism. Ryrie cites Niemoller who remained committed to the Nazi party even up to 1939, after he had been arrested and placed in a concentration camp. Niemoller, to no avail, requested that he be moved from hard-labor to serving as a chaplain for the army. He was probably not aware of the Uriah Plan, a concerted effort to send Protestant ministers to the front-lines in the hopes that they perish. And yet, even so, he was rejected. As Ryrie puts it, Niemoller's proem about no-one being left to speak up for him takes up a much darker gravity. Given that I don't know what Niemoller wrote and taught after '45, I don't know how deep this repentance went, but suffice to say that it took awhile for even a Confessing Churchman to realize that the regime was wicked to the core.

Ryrie makes two subtle comments that I want to assess. The first is that he makes an offhand comment about the Jehovah's Witnesses as being one of the few who opposed Hitler, distributing pamphlets to condemn the Nazis.

The second is that he quotes Karl Barth's assessment of German Protestantism, referring to the doctrine of the two kingdoms as a "cloud" that hung over all ecclesiastical thought and actions of German Protestants. While Ryrie chides Barth for being too harsh (i.e. it's easy to condemn when you're in Switzerland), but possessing his own self-justifying and conceited nationalism (i.e. Barth believed the Swiss had a providential role in being neutral). However, Ryrie does not condemn Barth's assessment in itself. Instead, since it's in the title of the talk, I think he agrees with it. For Ryrie the Two-Kingdoms represents a total failure of Christian thinking, a false demarcation between religious truth and civic action which results in quiescence before evil and complicity with all regimes.

However, I think Ryrie doesn't understand Lutheran Two-Kingdoms theology, or at least does not explicate it in a way to show the poverty of Barth's thought. Lutheran Two-Kingdoms is better labelled as Two-Governments. Luther only made a distinction, not a division, between two kingdoms. Unlike Augustine's two-cities, Luther denominated the kingdom of the left-hand, or the earthy, and the kingdom of the right-hand, or the spiritual. In the former, God ruled through the Law and pertained to civic and material life. In the latter, God ruled through the Gospel and pertained to the invisible spiritual realm of the True Church. Given this latter claim, Luther had distinguished between two notions of the Church: visible and invisible. The former involved all empirical gatherings of Christians for the purposes of word and sacrament under duly constituted ministers. The latter involved actual Christians who, under the sting and threat of the Law, received the grace of Christ and His pardon and were numbered among the elect. Now, unlike English puritans and later pietists, Luther made sure to note that the above were confused and mixed together. The truly godly could only know their estate in their reception of the sacraments. There was no attempt to number, segregate, or police the godly as distinct from the ungodly.

However, even though the invisible church's constitution was unknown except to God, the means of the invisible church were the preaching of the Church and its sacraments. Luther believed his discoveries and his teachings were spiritual treasures brought forth from Scripture, and thus inviolable, subject to discussion and scrutiny only from learned divines. The Law, the Gospel, and their presence in Word and Sacrament were untouchable. However, besides these points, the church and its constitution, including its polity and the election of its ministers, were subject to the kingdom of the left-hand. Hence, Luther had no problem with declaring that princes and magistrates could act as "emergency bishops" and could reform the church. It gets slippery, as princes do not constitute an office in the church, and yet are rightly able to reform them. Doctrine becomes the guard-rails from an otherwise seemingly Hobbesian collapse of church into state. However, Lutheran teaching does not call a sacerdotal priesthood into existence. Thus, it's perfectly feasible, even if a bit weird and confused, for Zinzendorf to be both a gentleman and a Lutheran bishop. Lutheran teaching may warn against civil princes from being pastors, but only as a pragmatic issue.

Ultimately, Lutheran pastors have a purely civic existence, and are a scholarly profession that may or may not be incorporated into the state as a kind of civil service. Their task, in preaching and offering the sacraments, is a spiritual commission from God, which is regulated through some legitimate confessional body. This body may or may not be conjoined, or overlapping, with the state, but there is a distinction in the role of the minister. For Lutherans, there is nothing divine about the offices of Christ's Church, only pragmatic for the orderly purposes of manifesting the kingdom of the right-hand.

I say all of these things to say that Lutheran Two-Kingdoms/Two-Governments does little to promote quietism at all. In fact, as many Luther scholars are keen to point out, Luther had many plans to reform civil society, including the role of the church in it. There were plans to reduce poverty, begging, create hospitals, schools, and charities. There's nothing inherent quietistic or slavish about it, and yet the emphasis on the God-ordained status of civic society had bread a kind of subservience. Some Reformed people emphasize this point, but its disingenuous. In fact, the idea of Presbyterian resistance theory that arises in the 17th century is a minority opinion. Many of the earliest Reformed theologians adopted a Lutheran Two-Kingdom's approach with modification. This fact gets buried due to Calvin's later popularity. Geneva was the hotbed of resistance theory, though Calvin was incredibly cautious, moderate, and orderly about it through his doctrine of the lesser magistrate. Through his disciple Knox, the Genevan school was exported to Scotland and England, though it was in disrepute. Zurich, as well as many German Reformed, promoted total obedience to the given magistrate, though they did not demote ecclesiology to the realm of adiaphora as Luther and his disciples tended to do. English puritans, with the exception of the fring iure divino presbyterians, adhered to this way. They pushed for further purification of the church, but under and through a civil realm that ought to lead the charge. Some puritans did not wish to tarry for the magistrate, but many would, even if it severely pained them. All of this is to point out that many Reformed and Lutheran Protestant theologians and pastors were keen to emphasize civic and ecclesiastical overlap, bringing a spirit of reform to both.

Perhaps Ryrie has all of these points in mind, but he doesn't seem to mention that the JW emphasis on antithesis flows from something one might label Two-Kingdoms. This fruit of strains of Anabaptism, emerging from Grebel and Blaurock and spreading to Menno and his disciples, eventually manifested in the free-church tradition, even if the overlap does not come from a genealogical connection. Ryrie's point seems to have little merit, as both the Lutheran and Reformed traditions (or their synthesis in the Prussian state-church that became a united Germany's state-church organization) are consummate products of the Reformation. And given Ryrie's other work on Protestantism, he seems to draw a very different conclusion. It was the emphasis on anti-thesis that led the JW to not only reject Hitler, but distribute information against his regime. It was a sense of separation, an awareness that their tangible organizations were fundamentally different, if not opposed, to all earthly governments, that propelled them to action.

In another talk in the same series of lectures, Ryrie discusses the Apartheid regime and its roots in Dutch Reformed theology among South Africa's Reformed pastors. Here he discusses that Apartheid was, in its ideal core, an attempt to make a more just society for both Afrikaners and black Africans, even though it was built on racialized, but not racist, covenantal theology. Of course, as soon as Apartheid begins to be implemented it is oppressive, and Afrikaner pastors continue to support even despite its cruelty, injustice, and radically disruptive effect on black Africans, Christian or not. But of course, here is a Reformed covenanter theology, born from the more pugnacious and resistance oriented founts of Geneva, and oriented to a civic and ecclesiastical partnership to remake the world. It was the same Dutch theology, born from the fires of the War of Independence, that eventually birthed Kuyper, and his near total eclipse of the church and the world through sphere-sovereignty and a redifferentiation of antithesis between the godly (Reformed) Christian and the ungodly secularist-atheist-Marxist. Kuyper shows how Lutheran and the Reformed modifications of Two-Kingdoms can, and does, fit with Augustinian Two Cities. It's a radical reconceptualization, but its in the same tradition.

And all of this gets back to Ryrie's quote of Barth about the Two-Kingdoms. In a sense, if we define our terms properly, Barth is right, but not for reasons he'd think. It was the Reformation's magisterial Two-Governments theory that ultimately hamstrung the German churches from thinking and acting. Christ's Kingdom had been tied to civil and political regimes. Whether its through the Law-Gospel distinction, or a more complicated ecclesiastical arrangement, Protestants of most stripes carved out a small realm of doctrine that was sacrosanct and handed their bodies over to the state. I'm being bit punchy here, it wasn't exactly that simple. However, almost every attempt for carve out ecclesiastical powers to reform discipline (something the Lutherans didn't care about, but many Reformed did) were complete failures. Ecclesiastical power remained shackled to political necessity, and excommunicating and disciplining members incited anti-clerical sentiments and could provoke backlash. Many Protestant regimes, fighting to stay alive in the maelstrom of European politics, did whatever they could to shut up these people, to keep the peace, to maintain the balance. In the case of Calvin, the Genevan council constantly frustrated him when it came to any interest that hurt them or their purse.

The only real alternative is a very different two-kingdoms, one that emerged from many of the so-called Anabaptists, the radically puritan separatists, and, much later, the free-church exodus from the Magisterial Reformed state-churches. Sadly, there were hardly any of these in Germany, with lonely voices like Bonhoeffer who considered the Nazis a far deeper threat than his Confessing Church brethren, but with little stable platform of resistance. The JW remain the seemingly only ones who understood the issue, and yet they were barely Christian in most of their doctrine. And yet sometimes it's the Samaritan along the road who does what the Torah commands. God help us.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Canonical Primitive Purity, or the Peculiarities of Apostolic Succession

When Irenaeus wrote against the Gnostics, a grab-bag of various teachers and philosophers, some of whom ran their own schools or churches, he claimed the mantle of apostolic succession. In contrast to these teachers, Irenaeus asked which of them had sat at the feet of the Apostles. He could trace the lineage of the bishop(s) of Rome, and even himself, showing a line from Polycarp, his teacher, to St. John. Irenaeus' account is usually paraded as proof of the earliest claim to apostolic succession, but usually the apologists and polemicists who appeal to it are bad historians.

To understand Irenaeus' argument is to understand why he would make this appeal. We are far from Augustine's almost mechanistic description of how the grace (what exactly?) of the office transfers from one bishop to another through the laying on of hands. Irenaeus is writing in the form of a public written debate, meaning his texts were intended not only for the teachers he wrote against, but the wider literate audience of people who might be persuaded to follow the Gnostic teachers as true Christians. Thus, the argument of apostolic succession, like much in Irenaeus' work "Against Heresies", is arguing within the parameters of his opponents. Otherwise, it wouldn't make sense. And while it's possible that Irenaeus was a bad apologist and poor debater, the assumption would be that he's at least trying to put his finger on the problem and flip it.

It would make little sense for Irenaeus to appeal to the sheer fact of teachers who could be traced to the Apostles. That's exactly the point the Gnostics were making: we have the true teaching, while you merely count heads and think according to the flesh. Irenaeus' point must be in regards to teaching. He can trace, through word of mouth, the teachers who carried the truth of Christ forward. The Gnostics cannot claim they were the true students because they weren't there. They're forced to claim special revelation, undercutting any appeal to the apostles themselves. And given texts like the Gospel of Judas, where Jesus entrusts Judas with the true wisdom that the other apostles misunderstand, Gnostics were keen to emphasize some form of continuity. Therefore, using Irenaeus to justify later forms of apostolic succession are disingenuous at best.

But that's just the starting point for my much deeper question and critique. Irenaeus understood the importance of teaching, traced through the succession of teacher-disciple relationships. That's not what modern proponents of Apostolic Succession depend upon, especially as the bishop is no longer considered a true teaching authority. Rather, authoritative power is generally removed to confessional symbols, a supreme authority, or some quasi-magical explanation. The doctrine of the Church is stored in ecumenical councils, a magisterial teaching authority, papal ex cathedra, or some lazy historical logical fallacy viz. post hoc propter hoc. But that's besides the point. Irenaeus clearly has an understanding of apostolic authority as rooted in possessing the true doctrine, and that's found in the above relationship between the apostles and their disciples, these disciples and their disciples, and so on ad infinitum. But the point Irenaeus is making is that the Apostles had the right teaching, and the primitive is pure.

Irenaeus is not making a facile claim about the Apostolic Age, as he's barely removed from it and he has plenty of problems. I believe it was Irenaeus who repeated an anecdote about St. John not entering a bath-house when he heard Cerinthus, a heretic, was there. What Irenaeus is saying, which most Christians adhered to until the post-Reformation crisis of historical meltdown, was that the Apostle's possessed the fullness of Christ's teaching, which the churches would continue in until Christ's return.

However, it was the Reformation that sparked an internal crisis among Christians. Reformation figures began to cast aspersion on the lives of saints, many of which was thinly glossed versions of Pagan gods and heroes, or contrived to make a political point or a historical justification for something in the present. However, as things usually go, these critiques went too far, and as Catholics rebutted, the quest for historical scholarship spiraled out of control. Pyrhonnic skepticism became fashionable as an ancient resource for troubled times, a cheerful apathy about all knowledge of all things. There was hope that if people could recognize their intellectual failures and humility then the potential social chaos would calm down. For as the scholars spilled an ocean of ink in scholarship and polemic, so too did the princes of Europe use these debates, whether as pretext or true belief, to spill an ocean of blood. Deadlock resulted in greater panic, resulting in a larger historical quest to find the basis for society, stemming the tide of skeptic atheism and confessional bloodshed. Eventually the historical resourcement burned itself out, with a turn to a-historical philosophy as a an attempted way out of the mess. And it was from this point that "Enlightenment" began to take root. I give a simplified account.

But it was not until Cardinal Newman where there was a forthright, and increasingly popular, rejection of the primitive purity argument. There had been arguments for something like the development of doctrine, but it remained idiosyncratic. The development of doctrine is not saying that the Apostles were stupid or wrong (though Newman disparages the saints of Israel as materialistic barbarians, only concerned to sit under their vine). Rather, it was a point to say that things had moved on, matured, along organic lines. As Chesterton would later argue, it's the same way a puppy turns into a dog; it's a natural evolution. Thus, Newman could concede to the infidels and the Deists that the Trinity doesn't exist in the NT, but was a proper outworking of seeds within the text. Newman was unpopular in his own lifetime for this teaching, viciously castigated by his fellow Tiber-swimmer, Cardinal Manning, who instead claimed Rome's infallibility in interpreting history to square the circle.

However, in the wake of historical criticism, Newman's doctrine has become the norm, especially among many Roman Catholics and some Eastern Orthodox, who can relish in playing a game of pick-and-choose when it comes to historical referents. It's dishonest, but the blindfold of ideological loyalty short-circuits any self-critical rational scrutiny. In the long run, it's hard to say that the Protestants lost. They proved, even to their own destruction many times, that the historical facts do not back up many claims of tradition as neatly as defenders would like them to be. The results destroyed many of the claims of the Magisterial Reformation as well as Papists, and the need of a given political crisis did not permit many orthodox Christians to properly get a handle on debating Deists, agnostics, and Socinians.

Scholarship today has cleared many roadblocks, even if it does not, nor can it, prove certainty. But if Apostolic Succession for Irenaeus was to prove the succession of teachings, it always requires a normative element. Here, Irenaeus took Scripture as a given, and understood the New Testament as the hermeneutic that the Gnostics rejected. It's here we must remain in continuity with the bishop. It is a mistake for Christians to give up the primitive argument, for it otherwise requires becoming a slave to time and events as they unfold. We must not think the Apostles were deficient in anything when it came to the teaching they passed on, which we possess in the New Testament, even if it has to be understood and worked out in a different context. That's not the same as saying that the teaching of the Apostles requires further development int something more true, more accurate, and more refined. For Irenaeus, his reading of the Scriptural narrative proceeded through the New Testament as an interpretive lens, not merely something jammed together with the Old Testament. They were a single book, but possessed different functions.

But given heresies within the churches of Christ, with varying breaks and disputes, the obvious direction should not always be within some obscene, and usually only tenuously rooted in fact, list of mechanical connection. Rather, the continuity should be with the teaching, and that's a teaching demonstrable through generalities among the churches of Christ as they emerged from the Apostles. The "patristics" should be helpful guideposts to always check our reading, though with recognition they are not immune from error. Normativity should always rest with the Apostles. Not because they are ancient fetishes, but because we believe Christ taught them how to handle Scripture, and that the Holy Spirit worked through them to make clear the gospel. Otherwise, the only other option is to become a Roman Catholic or a Mormon, given over the seducing spirits of whichever age we happen to find ourselves in. We either find the fullness of faith with the Apostles, or we are lost forever.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Mark of a Confessionalist Hitman

https://heidelblog.net/2015/11/burying-the-lead-baxter/

I'm relatively sympathetic to Richard Baxter. He was a godly man who struggled through the chaotic events that swirled around him, living through the English Revolution and into the life-after of the Restoration. After the Revolution, with the victory of Parliament, succeeded by the power of the Roundhead Army, the execution of Charles I, and the reign of Cromwell, Baxter's head was spinning. Yet he kept his cool. He remained strong for Dissenters, those Protestants who were ejected from the restored Church of England in 1662 for refusing to fully submit to the prayerbook. Even while he engaged with national theological controversies, he poured his life out serving the people of Kidderminster. He died a frustrated, but ultimately hopeful, Christian who remained faithful to his Master.

Baxter usually gets a rep for being "Arminian", usually because of his fight with John Owen over the nature of justification. However, even with my basic knowledge glanced from a few articles on him, it's clear that most of Baxter's critics don't really understand him. That's not to say that he was right, only that he is being misconstrued.

Hence, the link in the above article. Clark, like most Confessionalists, is a Pharisee, and he takes pride in his man-made boundary markers and the self-righteousness they accrue through being one of the few guardians. Thus, the obscene smugness is palpable. For Clark, he's being a good steward of the Reformed confessions against the "wolves" like Baxter. Of course, the sad thing is that Clark is an academically trained historian. He quotes Allison's work on the rise of Moralism, even as it has basically become defunct for understanding the development of theology through the 17th century. It's a crude caricature, up there with the idea that the Reformation created liberal democracy, that Protestants were ultimately about Weber's worldly-ascetic Calvinist, or that 'sola scriptura' inevitably spiraled into secular rationalism. These stories are neither true nor clear-cut. To the contrary, the mid-late 17th century into the 18th century was a time of renewed efforts at piety, involving not only moral uplift, but sacramental practices, affective theologies, and communal devotions. There was no progressive curve towards the irreligious moralism that has mistakenly been ascribed to the Hanoverian era, and becomes a reality in the Victorian era.

And Clark can't help but throw around double-edged slurs. He mocks Baxter's pastoral efforts, announcing that his moralist and rationalist efforts proved themselves in his church falling a part and becoming Unitarian within a century. And yet he cites, as a Reformed luminary, Turretin whose own son abandoned the Reformed creeds, and whose city apostatized to the extent that, within a generation, it housed J.J. Rousseau. My point is not to play the same game, only to highlight the poverty of this accusation. It's a naive, if not foolish, claim that historical change happens through some sort of overshadowing of a legacy. How exactly did the supposed faults of Baxter create a Unitarian Kidderminster in the century after his death? Don't wait for an answer.

But the real give away, I suppose, is the claim that Baxter's understanding of justification is similar to N.T. Wright's and Norman Shepard's. This point is meant as a slur, but for those outside Clark's coven of clerics it's telling. Wright's major work is in trying to give sufficient attention to the Biblical context of the New Testament, including its covenantal framework. What becomes clear is that the justification by faith alone, as articulated in the Protestant polemics of the 16th century, does not stand up under scrutiny. But, of course, it's more complex than that. Wright may assault how Luther understood Paul's attacks on the Judaizers, but Luther never uncoupled the mysterious grace of baptism and the supper from the enactment of salvation. Baxter's understanding of faith as not "consent", but as "trust" seems like a radical departure, but only if one cleaves too closely to the gnosticizing elements and cheap-grace approaches of the state churches that the Reformed confessions were built within. Baxter, as a creative and, yes I'll say it, Reformed theologian was in response to the crisis of the mid-17th century. To equivocate Baxter with Arminius, let along lumping Baxter and Amyraut as the equivalent as Arminius, as Clark does, is not only intellectually lazy, but faction-motivated slander.

But here's the rub: Baxter's condemnation comes from a poor interpretation of history. Clark's faithful echoing of Luther, and Calvin to an extent, that justification is that by which the Church stands or falls is telling of a bizarre ecclesiastical methodology. It involves a dishonest reconstruction of Church history that seems always pregnant with Protestant doctrines, which are only visible to the eye post hoc, and even then highly disputed. Since the Confessions are functionally equivalent to Scripture, any deviation should warrant censure. And on top of that, the play of history is functionally the play of dogma. There's no sense that these ideas have any relationship to a world around them besides in polemical books and letters. Hence, Clark is relatively knowledgeable about the doctrines of the Reformed Orthodoxy, as ideas, but barely has handle on their context. And if you read any of his writings involving American history, especially if it's Fourth of July, it's hard to tell if he's just utterly ignorant or mendacious. But perhaps it's a symptom of the Confessionalist mindset: the difference between lies and truth blur as your faction's narrative drives all things forward.

And none of this is to say that Baxter is 100% right, or that his theology is without imperfections and flaws. Only that this sweeping condemnation emerges not from careful historical scrutiny, but from a rabid tribalism. Yes, Baxter does not fit the parameters of Westminster theology. So what? It's neither the arbiter of Reformed theology nor the gospel truth. Yes, it's a barbed wire fence for certain Reformed prelates, and hence Clark's piece. But it hardly understands the real problems not only afflicting Baxter's 17th century England, but the contemporary world as a whole. But don't stop schismatic factions from carving out their little fiefdoms, trying to wait out the secular storms until they can try to take over and build their tower of Babel. Thank God for men like Richard Baxter, even in all their faults and frailties. And so the words are true:

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves."

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

We're Beggars All: Some Moderated Reflections on Luther and Lutheranism

I've raged pretty harshly against Luther over the past year. And I stand by all of it. I still believe that Luther's theological work left many open doors that many exploited, even as the Lutheran orthodox (for lack of better nomenclature) attempted to bolt them shut. It was from Luther's theology that sprouted the perverted despotism of Zinzendorf over the Moravians. It was from this fountain that a kind of existentialist atheism emerged, found in 20th century figures Heidegger, Bultmann, and Tillich. It has become the well-spring of heterodox maniacs like Forde. These monstrous offspring promiscuously mix in a pop-Lutheran theology that is among many trendy bourgeois self-helpers.

I also still despise Luther's betrayal of the peasants in their revolt in 1525. While I am not saying the peasants were right to revolt, it was surely they who were right to reject the Feudal political theology that kept them as slaves. Luther's cold-hearted denouncement of these forces revealed a deep complicity with and desire to be numbered among the gentry and burghers. This spirit was not unique to Luther, but common among most Magisterial Reformers. Luther was at least mildly suspicious of civil power, easily turned against the gospel and used for greed and lust. He was not a politique actor like Zwingli, a man-pleaser like Melanchthon, a would-be jihadist like Knox, or a burnt optimist like Calvin.

Still too I abhor confessionalism that surrounds much of conservative Lutheranism. According to confessionalists, it's strict adherence to these documents that prevents the slide into liberalism. But the relaxing of confessions among mainline groups was a sign of integration into the American mainstream, a relaxing of terms to influence the world. The relative conservative of a confessional Lutheran body has nothing to do with the confessions as theological statements, but due to a kind of sectarian existence, whether of circumstance or choice. To consider any written document outside of Scripture to be a timeless canon of perfection is insane. The Spirit did not promise anything but the Scripture, and thus we see a sick game of canon lawyers trying to squeeze novelties into "possible" interpretations of the confessional symbols. Not only does it create historical dishonesty and ignorance, it's ultimately a meaningless pursuit of man-made purity. It's pharisaical to the core.

But given all of these things, I thought I should give reference to many of the things that Luther and Lutherans do right.

First, I appreciate that Lutherans ground their understanding of monergism, justification and election in baptism and the Lord's Supper. They can hardly be accused of being Pelagians, and yet they see no contradiction in understanding that baptism actually does save, and yet it is entirely a work of God. There is little problem in appreciating the various parts of Scripture without subjecting them to a contrived system based on syllogisms. There's no contradiction in saying that God is the one who saves, but salvation is open to all, and that the gift is given in the waters of baptism.

Second, I appreciate Lutheran concern for liturgy. Not all Lutherans, some of whom engage in near idolatrous discussions of sacred music and architectures. However, there is general understanding that there is a distinction between the heart of worship and its surrounding. They see the Supper as the center, and its significance, the Word, as what envelops it. Whether it's hearing God's pardon, singing psalms/hymns, or hearing exposition from the text, it's all to appreciate and understand that in receiving the Supper, we're receiving the fullness of Christ. Victory over sin, death, and the devil is manifest in our participation. However, even as the Supper is necessary, the Word is necessary in content, if not form. The Supper must be accompanied with the proclamation of the Gospel, but this Word can come in a variety of forms besides preaching. Rote prayers, songs, and patterns of worship, even images, are a kind of decoration, teaching tools to instill the truth of the Supper. None of them are necessary, and if they become hindrances, they can (and should) be discarded. It's what makes known Christ's person and work.

Third, I appreciate the Lutheran concern for the Gospel. What I mean is that there is a general concern that preaching involves preaching Christ crucified, risen and ascended. This point is not unique to Lutherans, and is a generally Christian phenomenon. But the emphasis, even obsession, on distinguishing law and gospel helps stake out that the Supper is a redemptive meal, a participation in Christ's sacrifice, spiritually feasting upon His flesh and blood. I'm not exactly keen on how many Lutherans talk and schematize law-and-gospel, but it at least forces an emphasis on heralding God's work. Much preaching can be dry moral exhortation, totally detached from Christ except in the most superficial ways.

Fourth, even though I find Luther's Two Governments an ecclesiastical error and mistake, his secularization of civic affairs is far superior to Medieval notions of sacral kingship. While Lutherans end up embracing a sacralized Christian Society, at least the bifurcation between the Gospel and doctrinal truth and the civil/ecclesial drained some of the sacral glow out of civil government and brought about some secularization. Lutherans institutes the wrong kind of antithesis and distinction, they at least began to recover some disjuncture in Christ's work and the world as it is. The Babel totalitarian impulse of a wholly unified society was checked, even if in the most nominal and half-hearted way.

Thus, the real bone in dealing with Luther is his own myth. Being considered by both friends and enemies as a world builder, Luther is hard to assess reasonably. It's hard to chalk him down as a mere man, who did only as much as his friends and networks allowed him to. He did not have control of his ideas or his legacy, even as he in fact influenced the shape that it would, and could, take. I despise much of what he did, even as I admire much too. As a Christian, he was a beggar as the rest of us, a truth he continued to profess. May the chaff burn up, and may the gold continue to shine.

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Progressive March to Doom: Post-Millenialism is Anti-Christ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6Ec4-3QcoE&t=539s

The above link is a 50min~  video that explores what the speaker believes to be the biblical pattern of state and society. It's not worth listening to unless you wanted tortured logic and poor exegesis, but it's a good example of the fundamental problems in post-millenial thinking. The speaker explains how there is a biblical pattern that proceeds from priestly to royal to imperial within a society. This method is explored through a concatenation of biblical texts, but also paralleled to "history" of social developments elsewhere. There's not much practical import, though as the speaker is a self-professed monarchist (and quasi-libertarian), there is a brief list of possibilities as to how a Christian empire becomes established.

The speaker draws upon the thought of Peter Leithart and, thus, James Jordan, who are both postmillenialists and also depend upon this general schematizing of covenantal history. Unlike them, however, the speaker is Orthodox, but as a convert. What they all share is this sense that the goal of the Church (which, for Leithart and Jordan, is poorly defined) is to be a fountain to form a new socio-political order which gains power. The post-millenial vision in their hands is the dream of a Christian empire. And while Jordan and Leithart may disdain Byzantium as idolatrous and heterodox, eastern Orthodoxy and this form of magisterial Protestantism agree. The Church forms a priestly and prophetic ministry that forms the base of a political order where Caesar wields the royal sword on behalf of the goals of the Christian Church. The bishops/ministers of the Church represent the conscience of the society, not wielding power directly, but exercising a legitimating role of a given order. Against Hobbes' Leviathan, where the sovereign of the state wields absolute power and authority, this "biblical" social polity separates authority and legitimation from the exercise of power. In theory, the goal is symphonia, an equilibrium between the magistrate and the minister, between king and bishop.

But in the above piece, the speaker slips in at the end a reference to Jesus as the Emperor. And this tell is not odd because no one denies this fact. However, it's inclusion should raise immediate questions as to what this claim actually means. If Jesus is the emperor and the High Priest (again, few would deny this point), how do we understand the delegation of His authority, and where is the logic of the bifurcation? Here is where post-millenial theology goes off the rails, and, functionally despite all protest to the contrary, embraces anti-Christ.

When I say anti-Christ, I am defining the term in the way St. John does in his letters: the denial that the Messiah came in the flesh. While some attribute this definition to a proto-gnostic or docetic heresy, I think it's equally applicable to the Judaizers Paul deals with. To continue under the strictures of Torah without recognizing a rupture point, a fulfillment and completion, is to say that the Messiah had not yet come or did not accomplish His work. Jesus is the Christ, the Real who reveals that the previous dispensations had been shadows of a coming future. To labor under the shadows was to deny that anything had occurred.

Post-millenial theology usually depends upon a recognition that Israel's original mission still continues unhindered. There was no change, only a lateral shift. The work of the Messiah is reduced to a broadening of the franchise. Gentiles now become centers of the covenant. The age of the Spirit is the mechanism for self-professed teachers to claim their ability to broker with God. Whether it is Eusebius claiming a special relationship between Constantine and the Logos, or Scottish Covenanters claiming to be able to make a national covenant between their nation and God, it's priestcraft of the worst kind, a comical play-acting if it weren't for the deadly consequences.

Having read Leithart for years, especially his work on atonement theory and justification, it's hard to see what exactly Jesus accomplished. He seems to be an abysmal failure, in the sense that the Christian empires accomplished little good, spread much evil, and have collapsed, or are collapsing, into the dust. In his Delivered from the Elements of the World, Leithart has no grasp of how silly his theorization about a Christian culture seems. He has few concrete examples, most of which were historically vitiated by all sorts of political double-dealing. The closest he gets to his vision is the Jesuit kingdom of Paraguay among the Guarani, which didn't have a chance to collapse, being consumed by the Christian kings of Portugual and Spain.

I'm not sure where I stand with the doctrine of the Covenant of Works. However, this concept, at least, recognizes a break within Scriptural history, though one prophetically predicted and understood. Post-millenialism, with its many conceptual schemas about how the single Covenant of God is divided into different periods of development, qualification, or maturation, fundamentally rejects the category of the apocalyptic. An unveiling is nothing more than a step along the way, not a stopping point, or an overhauling. Again, the prophets foresaw this break-point, therefore it's not the radical apocalypticism of atheistic-Lutherans. What is unveiled makes sense of what came before it, even if there is a rupture with the past. In the hands of the Apostles, taught by the Messiah, the Scripture becomes the Old Testament, a source of shadows now unveiled to be fully realized in the person and work of Christ. All the major concepts of Scripture, the kingship, the land, the temple, the covenant, the law, etc. become radically reworked and fulfilled. They did not have power in themselves, nor were they absolute, but their immortality and inspiration become fully recognized in the coming of the Christ. As St. Peter would say, the prophets wrote better than they knew.

Thus, not only is post-millenial a kind of Judaizing, denying the shadows of the old covenant, but it is always functionally anti-Christ. It does not really have a place for the shift of the Spirit, the radical reconfiguration of all the types of Scripture. Most clearly is in the attempt to apply features of Israel's polity to contemporary issues, or, more broadly, the attempt to justify Christian's waging war or building nations. Without the category of a Christian state/society/empire, which depends upon the post-millenial schema, the whole project falls a part. If, as St. Paul seems to clearly say, that Christians now wage war in the Spirit, not fighting flesh and blood but powers and principalities, it's hard to justify a sacralization of a judicial order. But that's what inevitably happens. And when that happens, Christ is relegated far and away, even as divine kings and ecclesiastical authorities continue to reign in His name. This phenomenon is the whore riding the beast, which God revealed to St. John.

Even though there are post-millenialists who seem to embrace both what I'm saying and what I'm critiquing, such as Oliver O'Donovan, I don't see much merit to their case. O'Donovan argues Christendom is the secularization of the state, drawing upon Augustine. However, as this paradigm is still linked to concepts of a Christian society, and is tenuous at best, it's a hard sell. O'Donovan is not exactly a post-millenialist, nor does he have to, but his theories still contain too thorough an optimism. There's no serious thought as to whether a Christian can even wear the purple, which, in this regard, makes Augustine the worst kind of optimists. His theory was, within his own lifetime, modified by his student Orosius, becoming the backbone for the sacred kingships of the Middle Ages. The potential of Augustine's thought for a secular Christendom is a redherring. The closest approximation, Roger Williams' Rhode Island, was continually under siege and collapsed within a generation.

Post-millenialism depends upon a shape of time that is ultimately calculable. It may be as Christ reveals it, but it takes the truth of Christ's victory and spins a web of Progress. There's no sense singular direction in the Bible. Instead, just like in real life with real people, there are contradictory moves backwards and forwards. People can mature in body, but remain immature in mind. Regeneration can occur simultaneously with degeneration. Schematizing wings of covenantal history in progressive forms not only has little warrant besides creativity, but it makes a mockery of Scripture's intent. It is precisely at the least predictable moment that Christ interceded, which is what the prophets foretold. If we are to praise, worship, and be conformed to Jesus Christ, who we claim to be our God and King, we should not embrace any model or polity or schema that seems too easily ram the shards of historical truth into a mold to suit our purposes. sic.