Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world. But just you wait Pilate because one day in a land called
America my Kingdom will be
manifested when my people become sufficiently politically active and seize the
reins of civil power!" John 18:36 CNV (Contemporary Theonomy Version)
Doug Wilson has himself in something of a tizzy over the rather sudden if predictable and (in my eyes) proper groundswell of Christian leaders who are advocating a sudden divorce from Caesar over the issue of marriage, in essence taking our religious seal of approval and going home. This is somewhat awkward given Doug's apparent love affair with some sort of weird postmillenial theonomy or whatever he calls it where Christians who fail to be sufficiently activist in politics are letting down the team or something. Now Doug is a pretty bright guy and says some pretty deep and correct stuff on many occassions but on a regular basis goes completely off the rails. His post, TheYarn in the Public Sweater, is an example of the latter. Apparently even a guy who advocates stridently for smaller government and rails against the government in general simultaneously sees political libertarianism as a philosophy to be an existential threat and a forbidden system of thought for any real, red-blooded Christian. I thought I would do a little dissection of some choice sections for my amusement and yours. This is gonna be a long one....let's get started.
" So that which is a distinctively Christian political theory (i.e. a theocratic approach) resembles libertarianism in a number of striking ways. "
So the only possible distinctively Christian political theory is a theocratic one. That particular model of civil government has worked out pretty well in the past, hasn't it? As a reminder, here is a quick definition from our friends at Wiktionary on the word theocracy:
theocracy (plural theocracies)
As an interesting side note: " theo- + -cracy, originally from Ancient Greek θεοκρατία (theokratía, “rule of (a) God”), a term coined in the 1st century by Josephus (Against Apion 2.17) in reference to the
." kingdom of Israel
So having a theocracy means either direct rule by God (assuming monotheism) or a government run by a state-sponsored religion. The first (and only) example occurred in ancient
Israel under the Old Covenant with
kings and prophets through whom God directly directed the affairs of His
people. Of course Hebrews 1: 1-2 speaks of the office of prophet as God's
chosen spokesmen in the past tense and I have found that any contemporary
religious figure who claims a unique prophetic authority and mantle to speak
for God to universally be a crank, crackpot, heretic or some combination thereof.
So that leaves us with government under the control of a state sponsored religion.
Now we have a new problem: "Congress shall make no law respecting an
establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ".
Oopsie. There is also part deux of the problem, namely that theocracy even in
Israel didn't exactly turn out well as a theocracy made up of believers and
unbelievers inevitably went haywire, something that subsequent attempts at
theocracy have substantiated.
"In other words, a consistent Christian political theory is not libertarian, but it will in fact be accused by statists (including those Christians compromised by the idolatries of statism) of being libertarian. Just as a preacher who preaches free grace will never be antinomian, so a Christian political theorist will never be an anarchist or a libertarian. But it is equally true that any preacher worth his salt who preaches free grace will be accused of antinomianism (
Rom. 6:1). It
is the same kind of thing here."
So Christian political theory (a confusing and problematic term in and of itself) looks like libertarianism, talks like libertarianism, is often mistaken for libertarianism and indeed will be accused of being libertarianism but it of course never can be libertarianism because....marriage and divorce. Confused yet? If you aren't, you aren't paying attention. Keep going....
"So for the Christian political theorist, the integration point of all things is Jesus Christ Himself (Col. 1:18). Christ is the center, and must be the center. He cannot be the one before whom every knee bows and every tongue confesses, while at the same time being kept in the shadows. He is the integration point of all things, and cannot be the secret integration point. We must confess Christ, and we must do so in our collective capacity as a civil order. The Great Commission said to disciple all the nations, and this includes the Americans."
We are sorta OK here up to the point where
Wilson assumes the false dichotomy of either
subscribing to theocracy or keeping Christ in the shadows. Is there no other
way? Preaching Christ to the lost, feeding the poor, visiting the widow, caring
for the orphan, loving our brother. Are all of these only possible or only
legitimate or even more likely in a theocracy? Hardly. I mean this line: "We must confess Christ, and we must do so in our collective capacity as a civil
order." is so divorced from any Biblical foundation that is boggles the
mind that someone who studies as seriously as Wilson can think it does.
I am going to skip the middle but feel free to read it because once again Wilson seems to base his argument on why the church needs to stay in the civil marriage business because we need to have someone to force the parties in divorce to do so amicably and to use the sword to make deadbeat dads pay child-support. No, I am being serious, go ahead and read it. Maybe it is just too intellectually high-falutin' for a fella from
Indiana or maybe it is just a dumb argument.
I did want to point out one part here that I found interesting, although the
example of an ex-husband who won't leave the house and who should make him just
weird ( emphasis mine):
"The answer ought not to be friends and family of the ex-wife, because that would be spiraling downward into tribalism. He has friends and family also, and they have guns too. The answer ought not to be the church, because the church is not authorized by Christ to use force. When force is necessary, the civil magistrate is the one who bears the sword, and he bears the sword so that recalcitrant ex-husbands will agree to leave the house (
Quite right at least in that one part, the church is not authorized to use force and bear the sword. I wish he would flesh that out because the thing about a theocracy is that in order to keep the heathen in line, the church (which is the state and vice versa) by definition will have to use the sword and that is forbidden so we have a quandary don't we? If the church and state are one then the state is necessarily taking on those things that are reserved for the church and the church is taking on things that are reserved for the state and in fact are forbidden for the church. This is a glaring logical conundrum that he just skips over. We continue.....
"But coercion is always a big deal, and those who are entrusted with coercive powers must always be required to use those powers of coercion sparingly and justly."
Sure. But. Show me an example anywhere, anytime in human history when this has occurred at any scale. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely and all of that. Here we see the continuation of
Wilson's enormous logical
conundrum. How do we have a government composed of nothing but Christians in a
mixed society that is at the same time a free one? Will not those who are not
Christians inherently be less free? More....
"A free republic, with every man under his own fig tree, is not going to come until a free republic arises in the hearts of the citizenry. And that means Jesus. A free society will be one where the populace streams to churches every Lord’s Day in order to worship the Father, through Jesus, in the power of the Spirit. In big cities, there will be extra traffic helicopters out, telling the Presbyterians that they had better take Exit 28A if they want to make it on time."
Guess what Doug, that is never going to happen and even in times and places when everyone did "go to church" it was hardly a just and equitable society. In fact throughout much of Western civilization up until recent time people were compelled by force or by cultural pressure (blue laws, etc.) to "stream to church every Lord's Day" while during the rest of the week going to war with other people who also "stream to church every Lord's Day" or enslaving people for profit or persecuting those who dared dissent from the cultural religious orthodoxy. Notice we have that use of coercion again and it was abusive and counter-productive. See a pattern here?
"More discussion is needed on this last point, I understand, but I trust the marriage issue is settled (at least for Christians)."
Well there we have it again. Doug has declared from his Protestant seat of Peter in
what the only possible Christian response can be. All that remains now is to
kiss his ring. Sorry to say but like many men before me I am afraid that I
don't render the required obsequiousness to Doug on this matter. So that was snarky but wow what a pompous statement to make in closing an incredibly weak argument with holes in his logic you could fly a zeppelin through sideways.
All snarkiness aside, this sort of religious political eisegesis combined with sweeping generalizations and thinly veiled accusations is a serious distraction to the mission of the church which has nothing to do with seizing power and forcing the unregenerate to act like they are regenerate. To argue that the most compelling reason for the church to continue to serve as an agent of Caesar in officiating civil marriage is that we need someone to bring down the hammer when couples split and we aren't able to do it is the weakest argument I have come across on any topic in a very long time. More thoughts.....
In Romans 12 and 13 we have two sides of the same coin at play. On one side we have the church, called to be peacemakers who do not seek vengeance and leave the resolution of injustice to the Lord, overcoming evil not by conquering evil and bending it to do our will but by overcoming evil with good. On the other we have a call to submit to Caesar who has received authority from God including the authority to use the sword. It is important to note for the ten thousandth time what is not found in Romans 13. One, there is no call for Christians to cooperate and participate with Caesar, just to submit to and not rebel against him even when that would be the natural response. In fact history has taught us the painful lesson that it is nigh impossible and certainly unwise for the church to try to cooperate with Caesar, a far more pertinent application of 2 Corinthians 6:14 than marrying unbelievers (which is also unwise and for the same reason as the church trying to be buddies with Caesar). Second, there is not a clause in Romans 13 implying that it only applies when the Caesar or Caesar-esque stand-in is a just one. You cannot divorce the reading of Romans 13 with the setting and audience of Romans 13. It was not written for, at least not exclusively for, Americans living in the 1950's where everyone went to church and was nice to each other (except blacks but we don't talk about that). It was written to the church in
Rome under the rule of Caesar, an oppressive
government where public crucifixions were part of the criminal justice system.
There would arguably not be an even semi-just, liberal (in the classical sense,
not the modern theft funded state that murders babies sense) Caesar/state for
more than a millennium so if the assumed clause was there most of the church
would have missed it for a long time.
The sort of theocratic society Doug pines for and in turn lambastes others for not embracing has not and never will exist on this side of the Resurrection and Judgment precisely because the only One who could make that happen, Christ Jesus the Lord, has not ordained it to be so. It is amazing that people who talk so glowingly of sovereignty when it comes to soteriology in the abstract seem to be practical Arminians when it comes to social issues. God helps those who
help themselves go to the ballot box and etc. I trust
that God's will is being done even with a miscreant and wannabe tyrant like our
current President in the Oval Office. God handles the "big picture",
we are called to the simpler tasks because we are barely capable of doing those
and generally have failed anyway.
Jesus taught that His Kingdom was not of this world, that His people are strangers and sojourners in this world, that we are citizens of His Kingdom and ambassadors to the unbelieving world, that we are wheat among the tares. It is a tension to be sure but a necessary and intentional one. Had Christ chosen to do so He could have come in power and ruled the world by force, either in Person or through a designated mediatorial ruler. Instead He founded His church among the outcasts, the powerless, the foolish of the world. We should not ignore that inconvenient setting as a historical anomaly but rather as a very intentional act on the part of God.
We do not have, never have had and never will have the numbers to live in an idyllic Christian theocracy and that is kind of the point. We operate in the Gospel from a stance of weakness, of foolishness. We represent Christ not by standing in the halls of power but by kneeling at the feet of others, not with the sword or the Presidential pen but with the towel and basin. Paul taught it well when he wrote:
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:9-10)
It is nigh impossible to reconcile calls for seizing earthly power in a misguided and doomed desire to coerce what Christ alone can provide. If we are strongest when we are weak then it follows that the opposite is true and we are weakest when we think we are strong.
Wilson's argument fails in the same way that
a lot of libertarian thought fails, namely that it operates in a theoretical
model divorced from messy reality. The difference is that when Doug Wilson
makes his claims he drags the church into it and in doing so threatens to
distract an already highly distracted church from our actual mission which has
nothing to do with being yoked to Caesar so he will pummel dead beat dads.