Thursday, July 28, 2005

Witch-burners for Christ

Phil Johnson has been kind enough to respond to my reply. In order to make this exchange more readable and accessible, I’m pulling it out of the comments box and posting it here.

Steve: "The problem I have with this statement is that he doesn’t say what would count, in his eyes, as clear biblical warrant."

An apostolic command or example would be a start.

I don’t agree with this criterion, and, what is more, I really don’t suppose that Bro. Phil does either. For it would amount to the principle, akin to the Regulative Principle of Worship, only made universal, that whatever is not prescribed in Scripture is proscribed. But surely that’s ways too strong.

Rather, the criterion which we ordinarily operate under is the much weaker principle that whatever is not forbidden in Scripture is allowed. There may be some outlandish counterexamples, but that’s a rule-of-thumb.

What is the apostolic command or example that clearly warrants the London Baptist Confession? Or the Founders Journal? Or Southern Baptist Theological Seminary? Or weblogs like Pyromaniac?

Or, since you prefer the OT on these sorts of issues, explain away the implications of the biblical condemnation of Jehoshaphat's unholy alliance with Ahab, and all other such politicially-motivated alliances in the OT.

The problem here is that we have an implicit argument from analogy minus the argument. The insinuation is that EBC is analogous to the unholy alliance between Ahab and Jehoshaphat.

There is nothing here for me to explain away because the analogy has been insinuated rather than argued.

What is worse, this is a very odd analogy for a Reformed Baptist to make. Unless I’m mistaken, RBs usual argue that such an alliance is unholy due to the cultic holiness of Israel, which figures in the ceremonial law, as unique and unrepeatable feature of her role in the history of redemption. Hence, this ritual national purity is precisely the sort of thing that does not carry over into church/state relations under the New Covenant.

Incidentally, here's what I meant in that one-line remark that prompted your lengthy reply: You seem to deduce from your theonomic beliefs…

I think that “theonomy” is red-herring here. I don’t believe that the position I’m staking out here is any different from the position, say, of John Owen or the London Baptist Confession. In my understanding, RBs view themselves as squarely within the Puritan tradition.

How is my position on civic duty and the “usus politicus or civilis” of the law any different from the position set forth in the LBCF?


Chapter 19: Of the Law of God

1. God gave to Adam a law of universal obedience written in his heart…

2. The same law that was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall, and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables, the four first containing our duty towards God, and the other six, our duty to man.

3.Besides this law, commonly called moral…

5. The moral law doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof, and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it; neither doth Christ in the Gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.

Chapter 24: Of the Civil Magistrate

1. God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates to be under him, over the people, for his own glory and the public good; and to this end hath armed them with the power of the sword, for defence and encouragement of them that do good, and for the punishment of evil doers.

2. It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate when called there unto; in the management whereof, as they ought especially to maintain justice and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each kingdom and commonwealth, so for that end they may lawfully now, under the New Testament wage war upon just and necessary occasions.


I’m sorry to be repetitious here, but it seems to be necessary. What I’m hearing from critics of ECB has, from what I can tell, nothing at all to do with the historic Reformed Baptist position and everything to do with the modern fundamentalist Baptist position—say, somewhere in-between the Scopes Trial and the Moral Majority.

At one level, why this should even be controversial, much less an object of intense opposition, is a mystery to me given the doctrinal standard espoused by its critics.

But the explanation, I think, is simple. Here we see the unconscious impact of fundamentalism on RBs, just as we saw a similar unconscious influence of fundamentalism on the Presbos when there was an early split in the OPC between the “wets” and the “drys.” What this tells me is that the Founders still have their work cut out for them when it comes to reeducating RBs on their doctrinal history and heritage.

You seem to deduce from your theonomic beliefs an implicit imperative for political activism and aggressive, formal co-belligerence (where evangelicals join cartels and forge yokes with anti-Christian religions to campaign for moral causes).

There are two separate issues here. Let’s deal with one at a time:

First of all, as regards political activism there are three possible options:

1.A Christian is duty-bound to participate in the democratic process.

2.A Christian is duty-bound not to participate in the democratic process.

3.Political activism falls under category of the adiaphora.

Now, there are arguments for and against (1). And it isn’t essential to my position to argue for (1). At least, not here and now.

However, some of the critics of ECB talk as though they espouse (2). They regard political activism as a false priority. For them, preaching the gospel should be our priority, and since political activism necessarily diverts time and resources away from that endeavor, it is wrong for Christians to invest any time in political activism.

As to (3), this can be taken in more than one way. As I’ve said before, I think the proper way to establish Scriptural warrant operates not on a one-to-one correspondence between a specific injunction and a specific practice, but on a one-to-many correspondence between a general injunction and a variety of special cases which adapt and apply that general injunction to our particular circumstances.

Now how, exactly, we apply the general norm is, in some measure, a matter of Christian liberty. There may be more than one way we can do it. But whether we do it at all is not a matter of Christian liberty.

So, for example, look at what Paul has to say about the civil or political use of the law in 1 Tim 1:9-10. How, exactly, we implement that standing obligation varies with our opportunities and circumstances. There is more than one way of enacting and enforcing this moral norm. But we are certainly not at liberty to disregard it if we are in a position to honor and uphold it.

Secondly, there is the question of what associations are licit and what are illicit. Are we talking about first-degree separatism, second-degree separatism, or what?

For example, critics of ECB are critical of alliances between Evangelicals and non-Evangelicals. This would be a prescription for first-degree separatism: don’t associate with non-Evangelicals or unbelievers.

But they are equally critical of those who, while Evangelical in their own profession, associate with non-Evangelicals. Dobson and Colson are favorite whipping boys in this regard.

That would be a prescription for second-degree separatism: don’t associate with those who associate with non-Evangelicals or unbelievers.

And although critics of ECB are fond of quoting 2 Cor 6, they don’t explain how their apparent endorsement of second-degree separatism is consonant with 1 Cor 5:9-11.

Thirdly, critics of ECB are not only critical of cobelligerence, but they are equally critical of political activism per se, on the grounds that it diverts time and attention away from the only real solution to crime and moral decline, which is the gospel.

But if that is the case, then the objection to ECB is secondary. For even if such political alliances were limited to fellow Evangelicals, whether in the form of first- or second-degree separatism, critics of ECB would still disapprove on the primary grounds that we should not lobby for legislation anyway; since legislation treats the symptom rather than the cause.

Now, I really don’t think it’s asking too much at this point that critics of ECB sort out their own position and explain what, precisely, they are opposing. Is it cobelligerence in particular, or is it political activism in general? There appears to be a shell-game going on in which critics of ECB veer between opposition to cobelligerence and opposition to political activism as though these were interchangeable.

Your line of argument isn't going to convince me, since 1. I don't share your convictions about the continuance of the OT civil law; and 2. I am not going to have time to read a series of lengthy blogposts in the patented Purple-Hays® style on that subject.

I don’t know what that means. According to the London Baptist Confession, the Decalogue instantiates the universal moral law for all of mankind during church age no less than under the Old Covenant. Do Steve Camp and Bro. Phil formally repudiate this plank of the LBCF?

So if you could home in on the issue of political activism per se; and especially if you could show me where any of the apostles or early church leaders—or Jesus Himself—advocated or participated in the pursuit of strictly political remedies for the moral decline and persecution that affected the early church; or if you could demonstrate how the early church adapted the tactics of Jewish Zealotry for the cause of Christ, that might do it for me.

This way of posing the choices is a set-up:

1.Which ECBer is advocating a “strictly political remedy” for our nation’s “moral decline”? This looks to me like a straw man argument—a straw man for which no direct quotes are ever offered, a straw man which is reiterated ad nauseum no matter how often it is challenged as a straw man argument.

One reason for this is that the two sides are not talking directly to each other. Perhaps it would a good thing for Richard Land and Albert Mohler were to sit down with Steve Camp and Bro. Phil and have a face-to-face conversation to clear up these pernicious and persistent caricatures.

2.An even worse straw man argument is the comparison with the Zealots. These were Jews who incited other Jews to the violent overthrow of the Roman occupation.

Are the critics of ECB seriously alleging that Land and Mohler and Dobson and Colson are domestic terrorists fomenting an armed insurrection against the US gov’t? Isn’t that a rather scurrilous characterization of the opposing side?

3.Again, this is not the historical Reformed Baptist position as I read the London Baptist Confession. Rather, this is a textbook example Anabaptist hermeneutics—which limits itself to the NT and to the pre-Constantinian church.

Now, there’s argument for that, and it’s an argument that deserves a respectful hearing. I’d add that there’s a lifestyle which goes along with this argument.

But I still don’t know why the burden is on me or Mohler or Land to disprove the Anabaptist position when the critics of ECB claim to be RBs rather than Amish.


  1. Man, this is just a lengthy blogpost in the patented Purple-Hays(R) style.

    I can hear it now: " 'scuse me while I pass this by!" ;-)

  2. Steve Hays wrote:

    The problem here is that we have an implicit argument from analogy minus the argument. The insinuation is that EBC is analogous to the unholy alliance between Ahab and Jehoshaphat.

    There is nothing here for me to explain away because the analogy has been insinuated rather than argued.

    Phil is obviously referring here to 2Ch 19:1-3 and 20:35-37. But is the analogy really apt? In the absence of an argument, who knows? :-) But here's a thought. It is one thing to ally with other heads of state for military purposes, and quite another to enter into entirely voluntary coalitions for the purpose of influencing laws through a democratic process. For one thing, military alliances are much more formal and involve real, reciprocal obligation. ECB isn't like that at all. So how far is Phil willing to take this 'analogy'? Can we not cooperate with _any_ non-Christian for the sake of _any_ social good? I don't see a principled way out of this conundrum, as long as were at the level of vague generalities.

    Another interesting thing. At the time Jehoshaphat was allied _with Jehoram_, God himself praised Jehoshaphat (2Ki 3:13-14). In the rest of the chapter, God goes on to bless the military exploits of this alliance, against the Moabites. So although God condemned the alliance with Ahab (2Ch 19:1-3), God blessed this later alliance with Jehoram, and even said he was blessing it because of the presence of Jehoshaphat. Doesn't this mean that we can't infer a general principle of condemnation for these sorts of things? Rather, the most plausible view is that there were specific circumstances surrounding the alliance _with Ahab_, that merited the condemnation in that circumstance. Once Phil ferrets that out for us, then we can apply it to the ECB debate :-)

  3. I wrote: "I don't share your convictions about the continuance of the OT civil law."

    You reply: "I don’t know what that means.

    Which word don't you understand?

    Perhaps it's the expression "civil law"? Because that's where you seem to trip over yourself. This was your answer:

    According to the London Baptist Confession, the Decalogue instantiates the universal moral law for all of mankind during church age no less than under the Old Covenant. Do Steve Camp and Bro. Phil formally repudiate this plank of the LBCF?"

    I'm not sure why you would even ask this, when I was specifically speaking of the civil law, not the moral law.

    But since you raised the question, I won't try to speak for Camp, but I certainly affirm the continuance of the moral law. That doesn't obligate me to lobby for the institution of the OT civil law in our government's legislation.

  4. Bro. Phil,

    Thanks for the clarification. But the LBCF identifies the moral law with the Decalogue. So would that at least obligate you to lobby for the institution of the Ten Commandments in our government's legislation.

  5. Just to clarify my own usage, when I speak of the "usus politicus or civilis," this is standard Reformed usage for the first use of the law, which is still binding on believer and unbeliever alike. Cf. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 614.

    In addition, there is some overlap between the moral law and the civil law. Cf. Turretin, Institutes, 2:165-67.

  6. I am enjoying the debate, but even a minimal use of HTML on your part, JUS, would sure make the blog easier to read. As it is, I am getting confused between who is saying what. It's not that hard - really. :)

    Just put put the person you are quoting in italics.

  7. This may not be relevant, but if I remember correctly, one of the big problems that Phil has with the LBCF is that it has a higher sabbatarian view than that for which he finds warrant in Scripture. His "Sword and Trowel" website includes a teaching he gave on that, if people want more details.

    But it seems to me that Steve is assuming that Phil holds to LBCF, when it is exactly on the point of a strict observance of the Decalogue (at least this one commandment) that Phil declines to go that far. (Not to suggest that Phil is some kind of antinomian or anything, this is a very specific point.) Does that not have some bearing on Phil's statement that "I don't share your convictions about the continuance of the OT civil law"?

    Apologies if I have misrepresented anyone.

  8. Thanks, Charles.

    Bro. Phil will have to speak for himself. Perhaps he prefers the earlier version of the LBCF (1677). Even so, that still doesn't address the larger question concerning the identity of the moral law and how that should factor in political activism.

  9. Jeff Blogworthy wrote:

    I am enjoying the debate, but even a minimal use of HTML on your part, JUS, would sure make the blog easier to read.

    That better?

    Keep in mind that reading large blocks of text in italics is pretty hard on the eyes. Any typographer will tell you that's one of the main reasons to avoid it.

    I think I set out my quotations pretty clearly. I begin them with '<<<' and I end them with '>>>'. Is that not coming across on your screen?

    Also, I have an instinctive hatred of emails that are not plaintext. Sorry :-)

  10. Phil Johnson wrote:

    I don't share your convictions about the continuance of the OT civil law.

    But surely you share a belief in the following text:

    Ro 13:1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.

    Now, how should Christians most plausibly fill out the definition of 'practices evil' in v. 4? Are the Scriptures not sufficient to help us answer this question?

    As I put it over at:

    But if you want my own view on what that "something else" is, I'll take a shot at it. It is using all lawful and providentially-provided means to hold the state accountable, as "the minister of God," for fulfilling the duties God himself prescribes for it. These duties involve, at the very least, the state restraining the evildoer, not for the sake of the evildoer, but for the sake of those who would be harmed by him in various ways. Part of our motivation for this activity also involves recognizing the biblical basis for what Calvin called 'the civil use of the law', which is compatible with but is distinct from the other uses of the law found in Scripture. The law, properly enacted and enforced, is both a witness to society and a deterrent to evil. Christians are never to pursue these duties toward the state in a way that compromises their gospel witness. Whether such witness has been compromised comes down to particular actions in particular situations. In particular, gospel witness, and prayer for the individuals who compose the state, always takes priority over reforming the state legislatively and judicially. Nevertheless, attempting to do the latter _is_ a legitimate activity for Christians, and they can pursue this social good in cooperation with non-Christians, just like they similarly pursue many other social goods as citizens of society.

    How's that? On God's own description of the purpose of the state, cf. Ro 13. On the civil use of the law and its deterrent value, cf. 1Ti 1:8-11 and Ecc 8:11. Both Luther and Calvin would be subsidiary resources here. The different uses of the law in the Reformed tradition are well-known, and surely need no introduction to this astute theological community.

    There, that was pretty brief, coming from the likes of me :-)

  11. Nice blog. Have you seen your google rating? BlogFlux It's Free and you can add a Little Script to your site that will tell everyone your ranking. I think yours was a 3. I guess you'll have to check it out.

    Computer News
    China's Google rockets on debut
    It was a remarkable debut. Chinese search engine's shares sold in the United States for US$27 ($39) - then surged on day one to close at US$122.54 ($177.46).

    Friday's result was the biggest first-day gain for a new listing in the US for five years.

    Investors had more than quadrupled their money.

    An analyst in New York with, a website devoted to initial public offerings, John Fitzgibbon, said: "This one is the return to the internet bubble. Last time we saw a deal skyrocket was during the frothy IPO markets of 1999 and 2000."

    Then came the post-mortem.

    Some analysts said the internet search engine could have had an even better payday for itself if underwriters had sold the deal at a higher price to begin with.

    "It looks to me like the underwriters should have had a better indication of the appetite for this stock than they did," said Donald Straszheim, president of Straszheim Global Advisors.

    Investors were eager to own a stake in a company that many say could grow as dramatically as Google and is based in a country itself undergoing explosive growth.

    But other analysts are not so sure the underwriters made a mistake, given that the company's shares were priced at a relatively high multiple of revenues.

    "It wasn't priced out of line with the rest of the market. In a situation like this, you're dealing with the unpredictability of the after market," said Tom Taulli, of Instream Partners in Newport Beach, California.

    At issue is the underwriting process. Banks selling shares to the public - in this case Credit Suisse First Boston, Goldman Sachs, and Piper Jaffray - are paid to use quantitative models to determine a fair price for shares, but also to gauge investor demand.

    Underwriting has both subjective and objective elements, making definitive evaluation of a bank's performance difficult. In this case, demand for the IPO was evidently outsized, but so were the unknowns for the company.

    "We don't know the potential impact of censorship in China, or how quickly the internet will grow there," said David Menlow, president of Had the IPO been priced higher and then fallen in the first day of trading, investors could have sued. chairman and chief executive Robin Li, speaking on CNBC, said he was not upset by the potential lost proceeds of the IPO because the company had only sold a small portion of itself, and had significantly more growth ahead.

    But University of Florida Professor Jay Ritter, an IPO expert, said left money on the table by introducing the shares at a level well below where they ended hours later.

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