Thursday, August 04, 2005

Our friends, the Campis

I want to thank Mr. Steve Hays for allowing me to guest-blog here from time to time. He and I share quite similar views about the legitimacy of evangelical co-belligerence (ECB).

At Steve Camp's blog, I recently posted a comment in reply to his entry, "God Directs the Heart of the King". Because my comment was too lengthy, Mr. Camp deleted it. So I'm reposting it here. --JD

What's so unfortunate about Mr. Camp's most recent post (linked to above) is that he just continues to ignore the significance of critiques offered by Mr. Hays and myself. Mr. Camp goes on and on about how it is God who is sovereign over politicians, governments, etc. How this is one whit relevant to ECB, he doesn't say. God is a God of means as well as ends. In order for ECB to pose any sort of challenge to God's sovereignty, or to display any kind of lack of faith in God's sovereignty, Mr. Camp first has to make the argument that God can't use ECB as a means to bring about a desired end.

The implied antithesis between ECB and divine sovereignty is foolish. One might as well say that my typing on this keyboard is an affront to divine sovereignty, because God is in control and can communicate my messages quite apart from the medium of email. Well yes, he can, but what does that have to do with anything? One might as well say that holding down a job is an affront to divine sovereignty, since after all God is perfectly able to provide me food and shelter quite apart from my job.

Perhaps Mr. Camp actually believes that pursuing fallible, earthly means for various ends is in principle forbidden to any Christian, on the grounds that it negates or otherwise fails to honor divine sovereignty. But then he should just come out and say this plainly, as it's the only principle which could ground the legitimacy of his appeal to divine sovereignty at this point.

If Mr. Camp really believes the 1689 RB confession, then he should take seriously that document's own statement of divine sovereignty:

"God hath decreed in Himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever come to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears His wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing His decree" (3.1)

Divine sovereignty doesn't rule out secondary causes. It never has and it never will. And that remains the case, no matter how many times Mr. Camp cites Pr 21:1 :-)

It's true that later in his post Mr. Camp distances himself from 'fatalism,' and from the notion that "we don't do anything". But that's the point: if he really believes this, then he must realize that all his opening material about the sovereignty of God is entirely beside the point, because it in no way excludes the practice of ECB.

At the link above, Mr. Camp reposts one of his many dubious arguments from silence:

Why didn't the Apostles ever fight that battle by partnering with anyone on their social cause that would agree with them, including nonbelievers, and harness the hearts of those moral few and begin their assault on Nero's nefarious culture code?

Let's ask another question: Why didn't the Apostles ever post on Internet blogs? Why didn't they cross Judea in a Dodge Caravan? Why didn't they preach with electronic amplification? Answer: the means weren't available to them. I submit that that answer is just as plausible for Mr. Camp's original question, as the answer he actually gives. And that's the problem with arguments from silence that ignore context: you can infer just about any crazy 'truth' from them.

We don't live under imperial Rome. At that time, "Nero's culture code" wasn't subject to citizen input or revision, and it would have been utterly useless (nay, suicidal) to try. By way of contrast, we live in a constitutional republic that is amenable to democratic change, indeed, in which it is entirely lawful to bring about such change by democratic means. What part of this is so difficult for Mr. Camp to grasp? Is he really willing to give up his activity of blog posting, on the grounds that the apostles didn't do it? No, I didn't think so.

Mr. Camp continues to talk about Christians who "strong arm politicians to create legislation" or who "overthrow" politicians. No, Mr. Camp, it's called voting in a democracy, a lawful and peaceful privilege every politician is aware of. Perhaps you are aware of it as well? The rest of Mr. Camp's post reveals that he is. Perhaps Mr. Camp can inform us the next time a group of evangelical Christians kidnaps a government official or his family, and holds them hostage until they get what political demands they want. Now that would be strong-arming someone. I suspect we'll be waiting a long time.

Mr. Camp holds that lawfully and peacefully working to get legislation passed that reflects God's moral principles "is defeatist against the very purposes and plans of God." Funny, I thought the state was a minister of God who brings wrath on the one who does evil (Ro 13:4). Since in the providence of God that "minister of God" is a democratic republic, it looks like passing such laws would forward the purposes of God with respect to the state. But perhaps, yet again, Mr. Camp (unlike the entirety of the Reformed tradition) simply doesn't believe in secondary causes. Or perhaps his idea of the "evildoer" is simply the null set. Or perhaps "evildoer" should be defined apart from Scriptural norms. I'd hate to have to choose from among these abysmal alternatives.

Mr. Camp says that ECB ends up "alienating the very ones we long to reach with the gospel by political divide." What is Mr. Camp's alternative? That we not have laws on the books that keep unborn children from having their skulls punctured and their brains sucked out? That, in deference to the moral perversity and rebellion of the unbeliever, our relation to the state is one of moral paralysis? God forbid the state should 'alienate the unbeliever' by doing what God prescribes for the state!

Mr. Camp claims that the purpose of ECB is to "bring about social cultural morality." Notice that Mr. Camp doesn't bother to actually cite any prominent ECBers who actually believe this.

In his closing section, Mr. Camp makes a very strong claim: "The body of Christ is not to be rallied in mass to overthrow or strong arm certain politicians to achieve our own moral agenda. That is against the command of Scripture, beloved, and dishonors the Lord." Let's overlook Mr. Camp's distortion of the practice of ECB. Educating and persuading fellow Christians about the best way to vote, or Christians exercising their right to vote, is not "overthrowing" or "strong arming" anyone. Let's focus on Mr. Camp's claim that ECB is "against the command of Scripture". Has Mr. Camp cited one Scripture to this effect? No, he has not. And that's because there are no Scriptures which forbid ECB. What God leaves to Christian liberty, Mr. Camp takes it upon himself to legislate against. Perhaps Mr. Camp is against lipstick, dancing, and drinking as well? Indeed, every day Mr. Camp cooperates with the blogger.com pagans who own the hard drives that store his blog posts. Perhaps, in the spirit of secondary separation and purity of Christian witness, Mr. Camp will now store his blog posts on Christian-owned hard drives only?

And interesting, isn't it, that not once in the above do I have to appeal to the thesis of 'theonomy' to make my points? No where do I have to make the case that the OT case laws in exhaustive detail (including their prescribed penalties) are binding upon the civil magistrate today. I don't have to come anywhere near that position to point out that Mr. Camp's arguments against ECB continue to be foolish and unworthy of our assent.

9 comments:

  1. JD -- in spite of Steve Camp's anathemacious behavior, I find the discussion envigorating. Let's make sure we don't bump heads over things like your assertion(s) about God's sovereignty and secondary causes becuase I am sure I agree with you on those points.

    Camp asks this:

    {{
    Why didn't the Apostles ever fight that battle by partnering with anyone on their social cause that would agree with them, including nonbelievers, and harness the hearts of those moral few and begin their assault on Nero's nefarious culture code?
    }}

    To which you reply:
    {{
    Answer: the means weren't available to them. I submit that that answer is just as plausible for Mr. Camp's original question, as the answer he actually gives. And that's the problem with arguments from silence that ignore context: you can infer just about any crazy 'truth' from them.

    We don't live under imperial Rome. At that time, "Nero's culture code" wasn't subject to citizen input or revision, and it would have been utterly useless (nay, suicidal) to try.
    }}

    As I read the question and the answer, I think somehow you both got it wrong about the historical matter of Hero's reign and what Christians did about it.

    Mr. Camp makes a claim that "the Apostles {n}ever {fought} that battle by partnering with anyone on their social cause that would agree with them". Well, I think that turns out to be historically untrue based on 2 facts: church growth, and persecution.

    See: their "social cause" was the Gospel -- living it and preaching it, in spite of problems that might come their way like being stoned by Jews and persecuted by Gentiles (Demetrius the Silversmith comes to mind) -- so that the power of the Gospel changed the society and made enemies into family under grace. The church grew under Claudius and Nero.

    But it grew in spite of persecution. I would suggest that it grew in part because of persecution -- that their testimony could not be scared from their lips by the threat of death.

    And on the other hand, we have your assertion that "it would have been utterly useless (nay, suicidal)" to try to reform Rome under Nero. Um: it was. That's why they were dying. And notice: it wasn't because they were wagging a finger on the steps of the Senate but because they were everywhere changing the lives of people, and those who rejected the Gospel feared them. Nero certainly capitalized on that fear of Christians to start persecuting them. But the church grew anyway.

    I disagree with Camp that the first-century church was not out gaining allies -- because they sought all men (from the eunich to the centurion Cornelius to Agrippa) as disciples -- but I disagree with you that they had no means by which to reform the culture and did not/could not act against it.

    They were certainly acting against it -- but not with sword-bearing legions (which was the political method of the day): they were against it by doing something far more radical.

    I admit I have been backwards in replying to you in the past, but I'd like to turn over a new leaf here.

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  2. I typed "Hero", and I meant "Nero". Don't stone me for being a sinful typist.

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  3. Centuri0n wrote:

    I disagree with you that they had no means by which to reform the culture and did not/could not act against it.

    We're still passing each other like two ships in the night, I'm afraid. I never said "they had no means by which to reform the culture". What I (thought I obviously) implied by the contrast between imperial Rome and our contemporary democratic republic is that they had no _political_ means at hand to reform "Nero's culture code". And surely that's true, right? By way of contrast, we have a whole spectrum of means available to us today that wasn't available to them. The question is what do we do with the privileges we have been given, as those in a position to influence "the minister of God" which is the state.

    I entirely agree that the best long-term method to deter sinners from ravaging innocents in our society is their belief in the gospel as we preach it to them. (That's why your claim cited above is in error.) But as Mr. Hays has pointed out so often, not everyone believes the gospel (or will believe the gospel, since hell won't be empty). That's one reason why God instituted the state: to deter and punish evildoers. (These are usually people who will never be Christians or be interested in living a Christian life.) Preaching the gospel doesn't obtain the ends of the state; that's one very important reason why God instituted the state and not just the church. These divinely ordained institutions are distinct.

    BTW, please explain to me why, if Mr. Camp's argument from silence is appropriate, my (absurd) parallel arguments from silence aren't appropriate as well. I don't think you've directly addressed my rebuttal there. But perhaps you didn't mean to take issue with the entire post, but rather with just one isolated point.

    Finally, I don't think you really "disagree with Camp that the first-century church was not out gaining allies". You're putting an entirely different meaning on the phrase "gaining allies". That's not what Mr. Camp was talking about when he made that statement about the early church.

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  4. Sure: Camp was talking about (in historical context) cosying up with, say, the plebians for the sake of overthrowing the pagan Caesar and his enabling Senate. But that's his blind spot. The christians certainly were gaining allies -- by gaining converts. It's a huge paradigm shift from what Camp is trying to say, but his paradigm is bad -- you and I agree on that.

    You say
    {{
    I entirely agree that the best long-term method to deter sinners from ravaging innocents in our society is their belief in the gospel as we preach it to them.
    }}

    I'm glad we agree on this.

    {{
    (That's why your claim cited above is in error.)
    }}

    You should flesh this out.

    {{
    But as Mr. Hays has pointed out so often, not everyone believes the gospel (or will believe the gospel, since hell won't be empty). That's one reason why God instituted the state: to deter and punish evildoers. (These are usually people who will never be Christians or be interested in living a Christian life.) Preaching the gospel doesn't obtain the ends of the state; that's one very important reason why God instituted the state and not just the church. These divinely ordained institutions are distinct.
    }}

    I don't think that preaching the Gospel acchieves the ends of the state: I think it achieves something which makes the state, in the end, obsolete. That doesn't mean the state is obsolete today, but it does mean that the ultimate goal of the Gospel is worth more than the intermediate goal of the state.

    If you buy Kuyper's view at all, he believes that the State is a function of the fall. What's the rememdy of the fall? The Gospel.

    That said, we have to play the cards we are dealt, so to speak. No, not all men will respond to the Gospel -- but we cannot set out priorities based on the worst-case assumption that no one will accept the Gospel, or even on the biblically-sound premise that even most will not accept the Gospel.

    We have to set our priorities as Christ set them for us: seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and then all the other things will be given to you.

    After that -- that is, after we are living out a kingdom example -- we can then influence the earthly politics we are dealt with a message that is impossible to refute logically.

    You said:
    {{
    BTW, please explain to me why, if Mr. Camp's argument from silence is appropriate, my (absurd) parallel arguments from silence aren't appropriate as well. I don't think you've directly addressed my rebuttal there. But perhaps you didn't mean to take issue with the entire post, but rather with just one isolated point.
    }}

    I won't because I don't believe either one of you have argued properly. It is not that I affirm his argument and reject your argument: I reject both of your arguments. You are both incorrect in some of your assumptions, and draw inaccurate conclusions from your assumptions.

    I think that covers it all. I'm going home for the night, and I'll have ashort day on-line tomorrow, so forgive me if I am out of pocket through Monday night and back for more on Tuesday.

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  5. No wonder Campi doesn't like the OT or the Decalogue. It's just too darn tootin' LONG!

    I guess he'd delete Moses unless the Lawgiver could cut it down to 2 creation days, a one-week flood, 5 Plagues, 30 days in the wilderness (with time off for good behavior), and The 3 1/2 Commandments!

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  6. Centuri0n,

    You should flesh this out.

    Huh? That's what I did, in the posted comment above. You attributed to me the claim that the apostles "had no means by which to reform the culture and could not act against it". But I never made such a claim. They did indeed have a means for reforming the culture: the preaching of the gospel. What I implied was that they had no political means at hand. Reread the first paragraph of my last posted comment.

    That doesn't mean the state is obsolete today, but it does mean that the ultimate goal of the Gospel is worth more than the intermediate goal of the state.

    Why this has any bearing whatsoever on ECB, you don't say. I'm sure the ultimate goal of the Gospel is also worth more than building houses, but I'm sure glad some people in our society are committed to it :-)

    No, not all men will respond to the Gospel -- but we cannot set out priorities based on the worst-case assumption that no one will accept the Gospel, or even on the biblically-sound premise that even most will not accept the Gospel.

    Again, why this has any bearing on ECB, you don't say.

    After that -- that is, after we are living out a kingdom example -- we can then influence the earthly politics we are dealt with a message that is impossible to refute logically.

    Sure, let's wait until the church is perfect before we take any interest in matters of the state. Now that makes sense! ;-)

    How long should we wait until the church is "living out a kingdom example"? And how would we know? I'd be interested in the Scriptural justification for whatever specific threshold you end up articulating for us.

    And you have yet to show that the pursuit of ECB, in any form, is somehow inconsistent with the 'priority' of the Kingdom.

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  7. JD --

    You have tossed my comments into absurdity by ignoring the fact that I am not describing a church which lives in a bunker. You have separated my description of a church which lives the Gospel and changes lives from my description of how the church ought to interact with government.

    However, in the spirit of good discussion, let me be more specific. For example, let's take a look at the matter of homosexual marriage. What is it that the gay lobby wants, exactly? What they want is a civil contract in which two people share resources and (some) government-related benefits for however long they care to do so, and then when it seems like "the love is gone", they can take some legal steps and move on to someone else. Does that sound about right?

    So how did that get to be the definition of "marriage"? Was it because of all the laws that were passed? You might say so -- given the laws that were passed defined the many, many grounds for and kinds of divorce that we have today. Those laws redefined marriage. But how did we get to a nation where divorce is simply acceptable?

    Divorce is acceptable because churches failed to keep it unacceptable -- and failed to maintain a high standard for what marriage ought to be. The government didn't invent marriage: God did. And in that, the church was tasked to keep marriage holy. But it didn't -- it allowed something else to happen.

    And in doing that, it laid the groundwork for the problem of homosexual marriage. Do you honestly think the gay lobby would be trying to "get" marriage if it was defined by Eph 5 and Mt 5 and was nearly-impossible to get out of?

    Of course not. But because the church did not uphold the moral standard, government had no basis for trying to do so -- and pragmatically traded down from "til death do you part" to "no-fault divorce".

    Now in that, the church did not have to be perfect to influence the government: it just had to be doing something rather than the big fat nothing it had been doing for 40 or 50 years (maybe longer). If the church had objected to its members getting divorces, and then tooks steps to plant and grow healthy, Christ-centered marriages, and worked to demolish the idea that marriage is like fashion, then the question of what marriage is and ought to be could never have been assailed.

    At this point, your argument must be: well, the cat's out of the bag now, cent; do you suggest that we just let the gays marry and stick our heads in a hole? Well, of course not -- but where does that fight start? Does it start in the town hall weher some rogue mayor violates his own state's laws and oath of office and starts handing out marriage certificates to any two people who walk in? Or does it start in the sanctuary where, in the first place, homosexuals are barred from ministry and leadership, and in the second place the matter of family is taken seriously by the pastor/elders so much so that he/they requires that those who seek divorce for any reason other than adultery are set through church disciple -- and he/they can have confidence that the final decision of the church will be honored by other churches as a matter of a necessary call to repent from sin before fellowship can be restored?

    The latter way is the longer and harder way. It can't be resolved in one electoral cycle. But it is the way the church is called to act first.

    Now let's turn that around for a second. Let's say that we take your objection that the church apparently cannot do anything else until it is perfect and say, "OK, let's take political action first, or perhaps in a less absurd example, as a concurrent means to the end."

    If politics is a concurrent end with this kind of internal reform, the question, really, is who is kidding whom? All us church-going dorks who go out and vote on election day against gay marriage win in a couple of election cycles at the ballot box, and when we get back to our churches, marriage is still a joke. The divorce rate hasn't come down. The premarital sexual activity of young adults hasn't declined. The willingness and the ability to raise children who know better is not improved any. And why? Because there are only so many hours in the day. You can say it ought to be concurrent, but can you do them both at the exact same time? I've never seen it. You can't have two first priorities.

    Great: gay marriage is not a legal option, but crappy, ungodly hetero marriage is working just fine, I guess? What happens in this case is that our ability to teach and preach the Gospel is totally defiled by our inability or unwillingness to live that same message. We have beaten the gays at the secular game, but now they despise us and will hear nothing from us because our first reaction to them is, "look: we can't really defend the way we treat marriage, but we'll be damned if you get a stab at it."

    How does this apply to the ECB's? Whether they are pastors or not, they are the public face of the church. In that, because their primary goal is to pass laws that the church apparently thinks are necessary, they are beating the unsaved (who are not all unsavable) with the law instead of holding out the Gospel so that some might be saved.

    Will all be saved? Of course not. But let's remember that it's not our job to decide who is and isn't, and by what means we ought to preach to them.

    Now let's consider the issue that some guys are ECBs, and some guys, as you say, build houses. Are the house-building guys guilty of the same thing as the ECBs -- which is, representing the church in a way which undermines the Gospel?

    If they are shoddy builders, or dishonest, or careless, then I would say yes. But the difference between building houses and campaigning for laws is vastly different. The ECB says, "we have to pass this law to uphold this moral standard", or perhaps, "we have to pass this law in order to protect these people against those people" (and you'll have to flesh that out re: gay marriage for me), but the housebuilder says, "we have to uphold the roof to protect the person buying this house."

    The house builder cares about making money, and about continuing to make money -- but he has to do it by having a reputation for fairness and honesty. The ECB is under no such constraint -- because inherently he is promoting some agenda which divides people up. He's protecting these people from those people, and chosing which ones are the good ones and which are the bad.

    You can't retreat to "but it's God's law" at this point because you have said in the past (and ought to say so not to be consistent) that law is not to instruct but to punish -- so whether the civil law corresponds to God's law exactly is irrelevent. When you say, "I'm protecting some from evil men," you have made yourself judge, but evangelist.

    Now you can go deep at this point and start rattling about allowing murder and rape and stealing to become legal, but that's not what the ECBs are talking about, is it? (well, I have to concede murder in abortion) What they are talking about is passing laws which are based on a higher moral standard than the face value of the 10 commandments. For example, you and I would agree that abortion is murder -- but those who do not believe that (however deceived they are to think otherwise) are not going to have their minds changed by overturning Roe v. Wade. Would overturning Roe v. Wade make it harder to get an abortion? Who can tell? It would go to the states, and there is no guaranty that all 50 would outlaw abortion.

    Now what? We have to get 50 states to outlaw abortion. Now what? We have to enforce the law.

    And we have not yet actually approached the problem itself, which is that life is treated as something other than sacred, and sex is treated as a past-time.

    You might choose at this point to say, "you can't fix the hearts of men; you can only punish their evil," but while that is the task of government -- that is, the stop-gap God has established after the fall -- that is simply not the gospel.

    The Gospel is that God has shown us great mercy in forgiving our debt, and now we must not be like the ungrateful debtor who then exacts the last cent from those who own him anything, but be like our God and show mercy and compassion and call others to repentence. That message is completely obscured when all we do is rant "there ought be a law" and yell "Police!" every time we get our hairs crossed.

    A society which is redeemed by the Gospel will pass laws by which evil men are punished -- I have no doubt about that. But to make the laws come first obstructs our ability to make love our first, best suit.

    It's midnight, and I'm going to bed. See you on Tuesday.

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  8. Centuri0n,

    It seems that you are forgetting that people are santified progressively and not all at once. Divorce and Remarriage is a huge problem and must be dealt with and done so soon. However, if all the church is sanctified to do at the moment is to see that homosexual marriage is evil, I do not see any basis to have to wait for more sanctification before moving forward with the majority that we have to outlaw homosexual marriage.

    I think that you will have to admit that the church has done an okay job in limiting homosexual “rights”. So what do they need to do before they can talk about legislating against homosexual marriage.

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  9. Centuri0n,

    Reread your post and then subtract out all of the false antitheses. I don't think there will be much left.

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