A primer on Christian Political Theology

16 Sep


Some may disagree with the author’s seemingly strong association between the Kingdom of God and the nation-state of Israel, or the seemingly wholly futurist end of the ages fulfillment of promises made to OT Israel (no fulfillment in the redeemed church), or its overall earthy emphasis, but the rest is pretty solid.

James Patrick:

I must begin with the proviso that this is a summary of how I personally understand the gospel, the message of the Bible, to relate to the imminent referendum for Scottish independence from the United Kingdom. Others have different views about politics and about the connection between earthly kingdoms and the Kingdom of God; this is my initial attempt at a biblical theology of politics. However, I humbly ask the Christian reader to “examine the Scriptures… to see whether these things are so” (Acts 17:11).

1.  Politics is Jesus’ speciality

Colossians 1:16 says that “in Jesus all things were created, in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether …”  We would expect Paul to continue “… oceans or mountains or stars”.  Instead, he specifies “thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” – all of these “have been created through Jesus and for Jesus”.  That is hugely important.  Psalm 86:9 says “All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord”.  Paul goes further, explaining that every form of authority was actually designed with Jesus in mind, as the only one who can properly handle it.

We could be specific, then:  The United States, a federal republic, was created through Jesus and for Jesus.  China, a socialist republic, was created through Jesus and for Jesus.  Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, was created through Jesus and for Jesus.  The European Union, with its Parliament, Council, and Commission, was created through Jesus and for Jesus.  The United Nations, with its General Assembly, Security Council, and so on, was created through Jesus and for Jesus.  No political system can function properly without His direct oversight and allegiance to Him.  Yet all leadership that genuinely seeks to take responsibility to care for others is a reflection of His character (Eph 3:14-15; Ps 22:27-28; Ps 82), and therefore derives its authority from Him (John 19:10-11; Rom 13:1-7; 1Pet 2:13-17).

2.  God’s plan is for global political unity

A.  Only one legal ruler of humanity
Humanity was designed politically on the model of a family, with Adam as its first ruler, followed by his son Seth, who as the promised ‘seed’ was given authority over his siblings (Gen 4:1-2, 9, 25; Ps 22:27).  This line of authority continued via Enoch to Noah (Gen 5:29), via Shem (Gen 9:26-27;11:31) to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (Gen 17:19-21; 26:3-5; 28:13-15).  Then among Israel’s twelve sons, Judah was given the authority (Gen 49:8-12), and therefore his descendant David was legally ruler of Israel and thus of all nations, for their blessing (Ps 18:43-50; 72:8-11).  Jesus was the direct heir of David’s throne (Matt 1:1-21; cf. 1Chron 1:1–3:24), and therefore legally took responsibility for the actions of His people by dying in their place as ‘King of the Jews’ (John 19:14-22; Num 30:15).  At the same time, though, He was also dying as the rightful King of all nations, who alone could legally pay for the sins of any Gentile peoples who accepted His authority (Rom 5:12-21).  Having appeared the first time to deal with sins, He will come a second time to fulfil all of God’s promises of salvation and restoration of all things (Heb 9:28; Acts 3:19-21; Matt 19:28-29).

B.  Global government awaits its appointed time
From the beginning God has been actively governing all nations.  Adam and Eve, and then Noah, were given humanity’s commission to “fill the earth” (Gen 1:27-28; 9:1), and yet soon after the Flood, humanity attempted a premature political unity at the Tower of Babylon, in disobedience to their commission (Gen 11:1-9).  God thwarted their intention at that time by dispersing humanity and creating nations (Gen 10), but at the same time called Noah’s heir Abram to be a blessing to all the nations (Gen 12:1-3).  Ever since Abram’s day, many nations have attempted to create empires (Gen 14), but the one nation that inherited Abram’s authority has had to wait for God’s timing, while being used by Him to bless other nations (Acts 3:25-26).  Prophets from God’s chosen people Israel not only elaborated God’s future plans for Israel and its promised King to govern all nations (Isa 11; 60; Mic 4; Zec 9–10), but also took God’s messages to other nations and empires (Amos 1–2;Isa 13–23; Jer 25; 46–51; Ezek 25–32; Heb 1:1-2).  Yet even when the promised King finally arrived, after His resurrection and return from Galilee to Jerusalem, it was still not yet time for Jesus to take up the throne of His father David over the nations.  His disciples were expecting these promises of the prophets to be fulfilled immediately for Israel (Acts 1:3, 6; 3:21; Luke 19:11-28; 22:28-30), but they had not grasped how vital all other nations were to His kingdom also (Matt 24:14, 30-31).

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“All things are common among us but our wives.” Early Christian sexuality and charity

15 Sep

This past Lord’s Day, my pastor referred to a point made by Tim Keller about how NYC inverts the ethical order of Christianity.  In Christianity, much is made of sex, it is sacred, special, to protected, and not shared with anyone other than the spouse.  Money, on the other hand, is trivial, unimportant, not to be treated as a matter of extreme importance, and should be shared with many.  The culture inverts that, trivializing sex, making it public, shared, common, laughed at, unimportant.  But money is the cultural idol, the most important thing about you, and is to be hoarded, protected, amassed, and used for personal gain.  But this counter-cultural trend has been going on between the church and world for, well, a long long time.

From Dr. Michael Kruger:

While it was not unusual for Roman citizens to have multiple sexual partners, homosexual encounters, and engagement with temple prostitutes, Christians stood out precisely because of their refusal to engage in these practices.

For instance, Tertullian goes to great lengths to defend the legitimacy of Christianity by pointing out how Christians are generous and share their resources with all those in need.  But, then he says, “One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives” (Apol. 39). Why does he say this?  Because, in the Greco-Roman world, it was not unusual for people to share their spouses with each other.

In the second-century Epistle to Diognetus, the author goes out of his way to declare how normal Christians are in regard to what they wear, what they eat, and how they participate in society.  However, he then says, “[Christians] share their meals, but not their sexual partners” (Diogn. 5.7).  Again, this is the trait that makes Christians different.

We see this play out again in the second-century Apology of Aristides.  Aristides defends the legitimacy of the Christian faith to the emperor Hadrian by pointing out how Christians “do not commit adultery nor fornication” and “their men keep themselves from every unlawful union” (15).

A final example comes from the second-century apology of Minucius Felix.  In his defense to Octavius, he contrasts the sexual ethic of the pagan world with that of Christians:

Among the Persians, a promiscuous association between sons and mothers is allowed. Marriages with sisters are legitimate among the Egyptians and in Athens. Your records and your tragedies, which you both read and hear with pleasure, glory in incests: thus also you worship incestuous gods, who have intercourse with mothers, with daughters, with sisters. With reason, therefore, is incest frequently detected among you, and is continually permitted. Miserable men, you may even, without knowing it, rush into what is unlawful: since you scatter your lusts promiscuously, since you everywhere beget children, since you frequently expose even those who are born at home to the mercy of others, it is inevitable that you must come back to your own children, and stray to your own offspring. Thus you continue the story of incest, even although you have no consciousness of your crime. But we maintain our modesty not in appearance, but in our heart we gladly abide by the bond of a single marriage; in the desire of procreating, we know either one wife, or none at all (31).

This sampling of texts from the second century demonstrates that one of the main ways that Christians stood out from their surrounding culture was their distinctive sexual behavior.  Of course, this doesn’t mean Christians were perfect in this regard.  No doubt, many Christians committed sexual sins.  But, Christianity as a whole was still committed to striving towards the sexual ethic laid out in Scripture–and the world took notice.

Needless to say, this has tremendous implications for Christians in the modern day.  We are reminded again that what we are experiencing in the present is not new–Christians battled an over-sexed culture as early as the first and second century!

Belgic Confession – The Canonical Books

15 Sep


We believe that the Holy Scriptures consist of two parts, namely, the Old and the New Testament, which are canonical, against which nothing can be alleged. These books are listed in the church of God as follows.

The books of the Old Testament: the five books of Moses, namely, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther; Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Eccliastes, the Song of Songs; Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

The books of the New Testament: the four gospels, namely, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles; the thirteen letters of the apostle Paul, namely, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thesalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon; the letter to the Hebrews; the seven other letters, namely, James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2 and 3 John, Jude; and the Revelation to the apostle John.

- See more at: http://www.scripturezealot.com/belgic-confession/#sthash.pCcdPrBt.dpuf

Why does America, both its Christians and the left, neglect the plight of Arab Christians?

15 Sep

From Ross Douthat (excerpt):

WHEN the long, grim history of Christianity’s disappearance from the Middle East is written, Ted Cruz’s performance last week at a conference organized to highlight the persecution of his co-religionists will merit at most a footnote. But sometimes a footnote can help illuminate a tragedy’s unhappy whole.

For decades, the Middle East’s increasingly beleaguered Christian communities have suffered from a fatal invisibility in the Western world. And their plight has been particularly invisible in the United States, which as a majority-Christian superpower might have been expected to provide particular support.

There are three reasons for this invisibility. The political left in the West associates Christian faith with dead white male imperialism and does not come naturally to the recognition that Christianity is now the globe’s most persecuted religion. And in the Middle East the Israel-Palestine question, with its colonial overtones, has been the left’s great obsession, whereas the less ideologically convenient plight of Christians under Islamic rule is often left untouched.


Farida Pols Matte, 80, in Ankawa, Iraq, with her family and other Iraqi Christian refugees. They are among the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. CreditLynsey Addario for The New York Times

To America’s strategic class, meanwhile, the Middle East’s Christians simply don’t have the kind of influence required to matter. A minority like the Kurds, geographically concentrated and well-armed, can be a player in the great game, a potential United States ally. But except in Lebanon, the region’s Christians are too scattered and impotent to offer much quid for the superpower’s quo. So whether we’re pursuing stability by backing the anti-Christian Saudis or pursuing transformation by toppling Saddam Hussein (and unleashing the furies on Iraq’s religious minorities), our policy makers have rarely given Christian interests any kind of due.

Then, finally, there is the American right, where one would expect those interests to find a greater hearing. But the ancient churches of the Middle East (Eastern Orthodox, Chaldean, Maronites, Copt, Assyrian) are theologically and culturally alien to many American Catholics and evangelicals. And the great cause of many conservative Christians in the United States is the state of Israel, toward which many Arab Christians harbor feelings that range from the complicated to the hostile.

Which brings us to Ted Cruz…

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A Two Kingdom response to California State University’s non-neutral student org policy

12 Sep

From R. Scott Clark:

In (1559) Institutes 3.19.15 Calvin wrote that God has instituted a “twofold government in man” (duplex esse in homine regimen). This truth means that we have a legitimate interest in both sacred and secular spheres. By distinguishing between sacred andsecular spheres I do not intend to imply in any way that Christ is Lord over one but not over the other or that the Christian is obligated to God in one but not in the other. Rather, I intend to say that God rules over both ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical spheres, in which Christians live under God’s authority, in distinct ways. It might help if we distinguish between secular andsecularist. The latter seeks to deny, obliterate, or suppress the ecclesiastical and the spiritual. Though it is frequently derided, the distinction between the secular (that which is common, on a practical level, between believers and non-believers) and the sacred (that which is unique to Christians and particularly to the Christian church) has solid roots in the Reformed tradition. E.g., Westminster Confession 1.6 speaks of those things that “common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence…” as distinct from “sacred functions” (WCF 23.3). The Second Helvetic Confession makes this very distinction in chapter 19: “…that is, to take it from the common and ordinary use, and to appoint it to a holy use.” This use of the distinction between the “secular” (common) and “sacred” (set apart) occurs frequently in the Reformed explanations of the sacraments in theologies and in the confessional documents. This distinction is hard to avoid. After all, if everything is sacred, then nothing is sacred and clearly there are sacred matters.

As citizens with obligations before God to both spheres Christians ought to take seriously their duties to the civil magistrate. In the American, constitutional Republic, citizens vote, they serve in office, and they advise their legislators and other officers. On a practical level, these acts are common to Christians and to non-Christians even if with epistemology (how we know what we know) and theology in view we might explain those acts very differently. One area that ought to be a matter of growing concern for Christians (and other religious folk) is the attempt by some in our society to use administrative and bureaucratic positions to silence views with which they disagree. Such impulses are fundamentally un-American and unjust. One egregious example of this drive to silence dissent is the recent decision by the Cal State University system to “derecognize” Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF). This move follows a 2012 decision to require all student organizations, as IVCF explains, to admit potentially all students to leadership positions. Such policies have been pursued with vigor as “politically correct” across university campuses for some time. University administrators have clearly decided that they no longer believe in genuinely free speech or in a genuine diversity of ideas and are seeking to enforce from above ideological conformity. Of course this is the antithesis of a genuinely liberal approach to education. It is the essence of illiberalism. One missions organization describes university campuses as the equivalent of a “closed country.” The foolishness of such an approach, taken ironically under the guise of diversity, is obvious after only a few moments of reflection. Should a registered Republican be allowed to run the students Democrat association? Should a Hasidic Jew be allowed to run the student Muslim association?

The price of acceptance by Cal State system?

 It is essentially asking InterVarsity chapters to change the core of their identity, and to change the way they operate in order to be an officially recognized student group.

When even the New York Times recognizes that your policy is insane, your policy is out of touch with  reason and common sense.

Cal State’s new policy contradicts their own motto: vox veritas vita, which because it is a slogan without any verbs might be translated in several ways, but which suggests a relationship between speaking up, truth, and life. The CSU system was founded in 1857 as a single teacher’s college, then called a “normal” school. It has grown to 23 campuses and has nearly one half million students. It’s difficult to imagine that the founders might have foreseen a day when it was not permissible for a student organization to hold the historic Christian faith. Yet, IVCF (and presumably other orthodox Christian organizations) are no longer allowed to “speak up” for truth. They are no longer allowed to apply that truth to life. From what mountain did the administers descend, what revelation did they receive that gives them the authority to banish historic Christian orthodoxy from campus? It is one thing to disagree. It is another to attempt to persuade an organization to change its mind but it is quite another to force them to conform or flee. That is totalitarian.

How should Christians respond? First they need to become aware. This trend to ideological homogeneity has been under way for sometime. Second, they should do, as IVCF has done, and recognize that this is God’s providence. Third, they should not become passive. The Cal State system is funded by public tax and student tuition dollars. If Cal State only wants secularists on campus, then let the secularists pay for campus. Let the secularists pay the rising administrative costs and faculty salaries. Let the free market do its work. Fourth, Christians should organize and perhaps go to court. Whatever one thinks of para-ecclesiastical organizations (I have been a critic), this sort of policy affects all of us. If they can ban IVCF they can also ban Reformed University Fellowship.

Christians live in a twofold regime. They support the visible church with tithes and offerings and they respect God’s servant Caesar (Rom 13) by paying taxes but in a Republic Christians have a right and even a duty to organize in private societies and to seek to influence civil polity and policy for the common good. It is not in the interests of a liberal education for idealogical zealots to ban genuine ideological diversity from campus. Who is seeking to ban the Marxists from campus? No one. Why should religious groups, who still believe their historic faiths, be singled out? Is that not the essence of illiberalism? No one is compelled to join a voluntary student association. Why shouldn’t organizations, on publicly-funded campuses, be free to determine their own governance?

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If the New Testament documents were unreliable, the earliest critics of the bible didn’t know it

11 Sep

From Jason Engwer at Triablogue:

As Harry Gamble explains, the early heretical opponents of Christianity had the New Testament text in common with the orthodox mainstream. Rather than accuse the mainstream of significantly altering the text, they seem to have accepted the text and attempted to get around it by means of a less literal form of interpretation:

“This means that what was at stake between gnostic and non-gnostic Christians was not principally which books were authoritative, but rather how the scriptures were to be rightly interpreted. In point of fact, gnostic Christians employed virtually all the books that were used in the church at large. The difference lay not in the documents, but in different hermeneutical programs.” (Lee McDonald and James Sanders, edd., The Canon Debate [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002], p. 293)

Trypho, a Jewish opponent of Justin Martyr, comments that he’s read one or more of the gospels (Dialogue With Trypho, 10). And Justin cites the gospels and alludes to other New Testament documents frequently in his dispute with Trypho. Justin makes much of alleged Jewish corruption of some portions of the Old Testament text (Dialogue With Trypho, 71-73, 120), yet both he and Trypho seem to assume a common text for the New Testament. (There would have been some textual variants, of course, but they apparently weren’t of much significance.) Why would Justin have put such emphasis on Old Testament corruption if he thought that significant corruption of the New Testament was a common Christian practice? Why is there no need for him to interact with any such charge from his Jewish opponents?

Some early opponents of Christianity did make the charge of textual corruption, but it seems to have been a minor charge that didn’t come up very often. Celsus, a second-century Gentile critic of Christianity who got some of his information on the religion from Jewish sources, wrote:

“Certain of the Christian believers, like persons who in a fit of drunkenness lay violent hands upon themselves, have corrupted the Gospel from its original integrity, to a threefold, and fourfold, and many-fold degree, and have remodelled it, so that they might be able to answer objections.” (cited in Origen, Against Celsus, 2:27)

Notice that Celsus cites no evidence for the claim. And he only brings the charge against some Christians, not all. He doesn’t even claim that it’s a majority. Celsus often exaggerated. On the subject of unity, for instance, he wrote:

“Christians at first were few in number, and held the same opinions; but when they grew to be a great multitude, they were divided and separated, each wishing to have his own individual party: for this was their object from the beginning….being thus separated through their numbers, they confute one another, still having, so to speak, one name in common, if indeed they still retain it. And this is the only thing which they are yet ashamed to abandon, while other matters are determined in different ways by the various sects.” (cited in Origen, Against Celsus, 3:10, 3:12)

He’s speaking hyperbolically. But when this critic of Christianity who often exaggerated was addressing the New Testament text, he only referred to what “certain of the Christian believers” did.

As you read through Origen’s entire treatise Against Celsus, it seems that the two men argue on the basis of the same text, aside from relatively minor variants. If Celsus had much knowledge of some significantly different earlier text, one wonders why he didn’t make more use of it.

Origen’s response to Celsus assumes that Celsus was addressing textual corruption, but some scholars think that he may not have even been discussing the subject (Henry Chadwick, ed., Origen: Contra Celsum [New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003], n. 2 on p. 90). Instead, he may have been referring to the existence of multiple gospels among Christians (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and others among some professing Christians). If so, then Celsus’ charge isn’t even relevant.

But Origen possessed a copy of Celsus’ treatise, which we don’t have, and his reading of Celsus seems preferable. Origen was in a good position to comment on the text of the New Testament. He traveled widely, he was in contact with many Christian and non-Christian sources, and his life reflects well on his character. He responded to Celsus:

“Now I know of no others who have altered the Gospel, save the followers of Marcion, and those of Valentinus, and, I think, also those of Lucian. But such an allegation is no charge against the Christian system, but against those who dared so to trifle with the Gospels. And as it is no ground of accusation against philosophy, that there exist Sophists, or Epicureans, or Peripatetics, or any others, whoever they may be, who hold false opinions; so neither is it against genuine Christianity that there are some who corrupt the Gospel histories, and who introduce heresies opposed to the meaning of the doctrine of Jesus.” (Against Celsus, 2:27)

Celsus doesn’t say much about the subject, and Origen doesn’t spend much time on it. He doesn’t seem to be aware of any significant need to defend the general reliability of the transmission of the text.

Celsus’ charge doesn’t carry much significance, and Origen confirms what we saw in earlier sources like Irenaeus, Dionysius of Corinth, and Justin Martyr. Altering of texts was considered shameful, and steps were taken to avoid it and to condemn those who practiced it.

The myth of government neutrality between moral claims

11 Sep

Is it really possible in every situation for government to be morally neutral, even religiously neutral?  No.

From Anthony Esolen (clip):

On the impossibility: consider the effects of a permission that radically alters the nature of the context in which the action is permitted. We might call this the Nude Beach Principle. Suppose that Surftown has one beautiful beach, where young and old, boys and girls, single people and whole families, have been used to relax, go swimming, and have picnics. Now suppose that a small group of nudists petitions the town council to allow for nude bathing. Their argument is simple—actually, it is no more than a fig leaf for the mere expression of desire. They say, “We want to do this, and we, tolerant as we are, do not wish to impose our standards on anyone else. No one will be required to bathe in the raw. Live and let live, that’s our motto.”

But you cannot have a Half-Nude Beach. A beach on which some people stroll without a stitch of clothing is a nude beach, period. A councilman cannot say, “I remain entirely neutral on whether clothing should be required on a beach,” because that is equivalent to saying that it is not opprobrious or not despicable to walk naked in front of other people, including children.

Two factors must be at work, for the Nude Beach Principle to apply. One is whether we can expect some people to act upon the permission. The other is an easily predictable harm that the permission so acted upon will bring to people who do not act upon it, or who, because of moral disapprobation, disgust, fear, or pain, would never act upon it. In Surftown, it means that ordinary people will have lost their beach. They will have lost it to theintolerance of the nude bathers, who, even if they were correct about the moral permissibility of their parading their wares, will not forbear with their more scrupulous neighbors. In this matter, to pretend not to choose is to choose.

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