Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Tom Ascol Nails It

[The following blog post is by Jus Divinum]


I have previously been a bit critical of some earlier blog entries by Tom Ascol. But today he nails a crucial point. Here's the money quote:

Beyond this, I believe that American Christians actually have a responsibility to be involved in the political process to promote justice and goodness. Let me try to explain the direction of my thinking about this.

Does the Bible give directives to civil rulers and monarchs? Even the most convinced pietist would, I think, agree. Romans 13:1-7 not only calls for Christians to submit to civil authorities but it also states that civil authorities are under God's authority and are therefore accountable to Him to reward good and punish evil. The Old Testament abounds with examples of God holding rulers accountable for the way they rule. This is true not only of the kings of Judah and Israel but also the kings of pagan nations.

If we lived under a monarchy we would have not only the right but the duty to call on the monarch to govern justly, knowing (whether he acknowledged it or not) that he is God's servant and obligated to reward good and punish evil.

But we do not live in a monarchy. We live in a democratic republic. Who is our civil king? We are. The citizens. We are citizen-kings. Thus we have not only the right but the responsibility to use the political process established by the republic to promote that which is good and restrict that which is evil. Citizen-kings should advocate good laws and decry bad ones. We should hold elected officials responsible for the trust we vest in them. Citizen-kings are responsible to work for justice and goodness in society.

Exactly! We are citizen-kings who "have not only the right but the responsibility to use the political process established by the republic to promote that which is good and restrict that which is evil." We should "advocate good laws and decry bad ones". We are "responsible to work for justice and goodness in society," by political means as well as by every other lawful means, primarily by the preaching of the gospel but not restricted to this.

So far I've largely (though not exclusively) staked the case for Christian political activism in terms of Christian liberty. (Steve Camp clearly denies us this liberty as citizens in a free society.) The above is just one of many ways you can make a positive case: it is precisely our form of governement which ensures our responsibility here, one which we would not have under a monarchy or imperial Rome.

It is also in the spirit of the comments about Calvin received and posted by Scott Klusendorf:

"As Calvin recognized, once Christians actually had the power to be kings, even in some little way, they took on the responsibility that goes with kingship. Christian responsibility towards government is discussed in but a few places in the New Testament. The most notable example is in Romans 13. Romans 13 begins with the instruction to submit to governing authorities (13:1). The purpose of such authorities is to punish evil from verse 4 and to promote social order and good. (verse 3.) It follows, then, that if Christians are part of the governing authorities—as indeed every Christian in the United States is—they must fulfill God’s will for government by punishing evil and promoting good. Calvin saw no basis for the view that the Christian who is in a position to change society and laws can shirk that responsibility."


  1. In the hope of keeping it as simple as possible, what is our relationship to the Gospel when we outlaw gay marriage and set the definition of marriage as "the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife" (emph added)?

    I agree with you that Ascol nails it, and I agree with you that Steve Campi has to take some time off and decide what exactly he's advocating for. The question is about what we mean when we say, as you did in summarizing Ascol, "primarily by the preaching of the gospel but not restricted to this".

  2. Centuri0n,

    My 'relationship to the Gospel' is a good one. How's yours? :-)

    You know, if you're going to refer to the Federal Marriage Amendment, at least *get the text right*:

    "SECTION 1. Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any State, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."

    Neither the 2002 version above nor the slightly revised 2004 version says, as you apparently want it to say: the *word* 'marriage' *means only* a legal union between... etc.

    It's a definition of *legal marriage*, that is, marriage *as a legal status in our society*. Marriage is of course much *more* than its legal requirements and incidents. So what?

    According to you, laws on the books against murder would somehow be deficient because they don't *also* say that murder is a sin against God and can be forgiven by God. S-U-R-E, if you say so! ;-)

    Perhaps you think that laws are incompatible with the gospel. Or perhaps you think the law *is* the gospel. Or maybe you think the gospel should be tucked away in every law on the law books. It's been hard to tell. Of course, we've heard from you on this topic before:

    My gripe is that the Gospel is not in their legislation at all.


    To which the proper response was, and remains: Hello?! What, now the law *is* the gospel? This is ridiculous.

    Or, as you also claimed in that earlier comment:

    The law as it was written is merely a club.

    To which I continue to say: Yeah, that's what it was under imperial Rome. It certainly wasn't the gospel! And Paul dared to call imperial Rome "the minister of God". What is so hard about accepting this fundamental point? The state is not Jesus Christ, and it will not redeem you, much less get you a cuddly blanket and suck your thumb for you. Get over it.

    You also said:

    Apparently, you have a problem with the idea that the definition of marriage is a function of the Gospel, among other things.


    To which I said: And what's with this nonsense that "the definition of marriage is a function of the Gospel"? Last I checked, the definition of marriage was a function of Ge 1-2.

    Centuri0n, you're just dredging up the same old points, which were rebutted by me and then dropped by you. Let me know if you want to actually say anything new.

  3. Steve(Campi) I want to say i agree with you and your friend. You guys are sound on this. My only conviction is still that men are trusting in flesh and do not realize it. I've been doing a roundabout with Steve Hays and let me apologize to you as i wish to distance myself from any reasoning I once had that a forum with him was a good thing. I am gonna post this on Phil's blog when I get a chance:

    Dear Phil,

    My purpose for this little roundabout with Steve was not to win a debate but to draw him out of the "Black Hole" Campi so accurately described. Did he prove me to be ignorant on things? Yes. He also probably felt I was being reactionary this time around but was I? In the end I didn't need his books or his biblical interpretation to prove that his view of Theonomy(and I might add most men today) is humanistic: I needed him. I hope you can see what I am talking about. Phil please don't fall into the trap of thinking flesh and blood will win the battle, it's easy to do. Steve Hays and I are little OZ men. If his purpose was to prove me a fool then fine; but in the words of the late Obiwan Kenobi :-) Who is the more fool? The fool or the one who follows him. I say this to all men who read this blog: Get your eyes off of the wizard of Oz and put them on Yeshua.

    God also told Samuel when Israel rejected His theocracy, "They have not rejected you, they have rejected me."

    When John the Baptist and Jesus said, "The Kingdom of God is at hand." They meant it. It is wholly and completely not of this world and any human imagination that exalts itself against it.

    I still vote and pray for leaders as well as thank God for this nation he allowed me to live in. I also fought for it and would still do so today if given another chance.

    By the way Steve Hays feels that broad and sweeping statements should not be used. On his site I saw an excellent example of one in bold letters. Jus referred to Campi as being Howard Stern. I don't understand in one comment he said Campi was a great Christian and wonderful singer and he hoped that more would be like him. Now he compares him with a pornographer who indulges in the most ungodly behavior. If this is not reactionary, I don't know what is. There is no shame in that "Black Hole" and its purpose is to grind.

    Jus you are grasping for straws in this comparison.

  4. Coupla notes:

    - If I was implying that JD has a bad relationship with the Gospel in the general sense (that is, that he's disconnected from the Gospel at the aggregate level), then my words were chosen poorly because I do not believe that is the case. However, it is important to understand that someone can have good faith and do bad things which do not promote the Gospel. When I asked "what is our relationship to the Gospel ..." I was asking about the relationship of a specific act to the Gospel message (as demonstrated by the example as I spelled it out), I was saying that DOMA does not take a right view of the Gospel and therefore makes a mess of defining marriage.

    - I drew my text from DOMA, which is actually the law, not FMA, which is not actually the law. DOMA was the law as it was passed in 1996 in the earliest round of this broo-ha-ha, and it was seen as a big victory by the ECBs. It is also the basis for further lobbying on their part at the state level. DO you think DOMA did anything to actually defend the Christian view of marriage? Is it the defintion you would use or defend?

    - Given the text you cite, and your confession that this amendment only recognizes marriage as a legal status, how can it be seen as a victory for the Christian view of marriage? Do you think this is the definition of marriage that people ought to abide by? If it is, you are going to find that you have just handed the keys to the car to homosexual lobby -- because there is no legal basis for restricting this legal status to just one man and one woman.

    "Oh Cent," you say, "you're so stupid. This is a constitutional amendment. The courts can't tamper with it once it's adopted." No, they can not -- but the question this amendment completely begs is "what other kinds of unions are there besides marriage that states can adopt?" If this amendment is made part of the Constitution, other kinds of unions are right around the corner -- not by slipper slope reasoning, but by the fact that this amendment does not forbid making other kinds of unions like marriage: it only forbids "construing" (which is to say, interpreting or assuming in the legal sense) that other kinds of unions are like marriage.

    - What inevitably happens in this discussion, JD, is that you start sticking words into my mouth. For example, when you change my statement My gripe is that the Gospel is not in their legislation at all into Hello?! What, now the law *is* the gospel? This is ridiculous, you have changed what I have said into something you are more comfortable arguing against.

    All men make laws. Romans 2 says that when those without the Law demonstrate that they know something about the Law (by conscience or by moral duties), they remove the excuse that they didn't know any better. So when men (generic) make laws, they demonstrate that they have some awareness of God's decrees.

    If all me make laws, what kind of laws should disciples of Christ make? For example, should we make laws about murder which plead about fairness or citizenship as the basis for the right of a person not to be killed in the street? Or should the disciple of Christ say, "All men are created equal, and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among them being life"? Ceratinly that is not how any law against murder is written in our country, but it is certainly how all laws against murder are framed in this country because this presupposition was in the basis of the Declaration of Independence.

    "Cent, you nitwit," you may respond, "if the Declaration frames the murder laws, why not just admit it frames the marriage laws as well?" Because, in fact, it does not frame marriage at all. It advances broad general principles which do not cover all moral reasoning. It is the responsibility of the Christian political activist to advance the Gospel by making sure that moral precepts are demonstrated in the law from the right metaphysical and epistemological foundation.

    In that way, your criticism of my statements simply overlooks the fact that just saying "murder is illegal" is not even remotely a Christian view of things -- and I can prove this by pointing you at the current rush to (again) outlaw the death penalty. If murder law was based on Biblical principles, the right of Government to execute the murderer would be unquestionable -- and would not be equated with murder but with justice. But our penal codes don't even come close to making that kind of distinction, and in that they fail to uphold the right (yes, it is a right) of the government to punish the evildoer.

    So when you object to me for trying to equate the Gospel and the civil law (which I do not do), think about the impact having the actual Gospel -- that is, all of God's truth -- as the basis for the things that are and are not illegal (which is what I have been saying over and over and oner ...). The law with the Gospel in it is radically different than the law which does not intersect with the Gospel.

    - When you confuse my assertion that the current acts which forbid Gay marriage are merely a club with which to beat Gays off of "marriage" with what Rome was doing, you are making an error of type -- by ignoring who you are defending and why. No one is denying that Paul affirmed that Roman authorities bore the ministry of the sword. The question is, "should Christians implementing laws make judgments by the standards and implement the same kinds of political reasoning as pagan Romans?"

    The answer has to be "no". If our political philosophy -- which includes why things ought to be illegal, what the consequences of illegal behavior ought to be, and in what social realm behaviors ought to be defined and dealt with -- is no better than Roman Senators and Caesars, then you have won your argument and lost the point.

    I am not calling for or advocating an abandonment of law: I am calling for a view of civil law which places the Gospel first. In that, an ECB ought to have more concern that the civil law is based on God's principles than some person who thinks he is a god who lives in Rome. If the ECBs are the same kind of people that the Roman rulers were, then they should just make laws like the Romans did: for pragmatic reasons as they saw fit, and through the guidance of general revelation rather than Scripture. But if the ECBs are not the same kind of people that the Roman rulers were, then they have something else they have to do besides lobby for pragmatic legal language.

    - The definition of marriage is most certainly a function of the Gospel, if you read Eph 5. Marriage is not just about created function but about God's revelation of the Gospel in the roles man and woman have toward each other. If you were reading everything I have typed and not just snatching sentences out of context to score points, you would undoubtedly have seen me make this statement before.

    - Last and not least: I have made an effort to avoid zinging you as we have discussed this because I consider you a smart person and a brother in Christ. However, if you're more interested in a street fight, I'm not interested. The reason for me "ignoring you" is that you fly off the handle -- I have the good taste to step back and cool off rather than to tell you, "it's ashame that you don't know the difference between the actual law and proposed constitutional amendment -- maybe if you brushed up on your current events you'd be someone worth discussing this with" or "Your Bible may end in Genesis, but the Bible the ECBs carry does not, and they (and you) might find Eph 5 useful in determining what God's plan for marriage is all about".

    If you are interested in this being an exchange of ideas, I'm in -- and will do my best to keep up with you. If you are interested, however, in a flame war, you can look someplace else.

  5. Brian,

    Your problem, a problem you share in common with your idol, is that, for some inexplicable reason, you think that being a Christian gives you the right to take a Sabbatical from the elementary rules of truth-telling.

    By your own admission, you are willfully ignorant of the opposing position. You pose questions, then don’t bother to read the answers.

    Camp issues challenges to those who support ECB to justify their position Scripturally. When we rise to the challenge and take him at his word, he sticks his fingers in his ears and raises his voice. When we point out that he’s twisting Scripture, he just goes on misusing and abusing the Bible.

    Yet your willful ignorance doesn’t restrain you from judging things which, again, by your own admission, you are incompetent to judge.

    You are indulging in exactly the same culpably ignorant caricatures as Art Sippo and Dave Hunt deploy against James White.

    So one rather basic difference between you and me is that I don’t suppose that being a Christian gives me an all-expenses paid vacation from the truth.

    There’s nothing wrong with making broad and sweeping statements as long as they’re accurate, as long as they are fact-based claims.

    You, however, make broad and sweeping statements with zero evidence on your part, and in deliberate, studied ignorance of evidence to the contrary that is available to you if you had a modicum of moral integrity.

    Another problem you have is a lack of reading skills. This, of course, comes from your indifference to truth-telling. Two examples:

    i) I (Steve Hays) was the one who posted the Howard Campi Stern piece, not JD.

    But because you’re so sloppy with the facts, you don’t pay attention to who said what.

    ii) I never said that Campi was a great Christian and wonderful singer and that I hoped that more would be like him.

    Where did you ever get the idea that I was the one who posed that comment? Just because it went by the name of Steve? I’m not the only person is the world with that first name. Why, I even believe that Mr. Camp shares that modest distinction with me. So do others who may have occasion to post comments on Phil’s blog.

    If you click on the name, it will take you to a profile which differentiates one Steve from another. You might try it sometime. But you’re way too busy cutting corners with the truth to do this elementary fact-checking.

    Here’s an idea: why don’t you do a concordance study of “truth” some time.

    Yes, I compared your idol to Howard Stern because he chose to get down into the same gutter with the likes of Howard Stern.

    But I realize that you’re a Camp groupie, so your idol can do no wrong, just as, for Michael Jackson fans, the King of Pop can do no wrong. Celebrity trumps morality every time.

    I’m of the old-fashioned view that Christians should be held to a higher standard, not a lower one. But that’s just me.

    For the record, I’ve never questioned Campi’s Christian faith, although his spiritual maturity is another matter entirely!

    But on this issue, Camp is a classic demagogue. It’s precisely the sort of oratory that Paul warned against in 1 Cor 1-3.

    Just assume the right rhetorical tone of voice, use all the right code words, push the preset buttons, and you’re guaranteed a Pavlovian retinue. It works for Hinn and Camping and Jakes and Cheung, to name a few. P. T. Barnum was right. There’s always a market for a flim-flam artist.

    O, and btw, since when did an ex-Marine become so otherworldly? I haven’t seen many gun-totting Amish in my time. So were you a hypocrite before you left the Marine Corps or afterwards? Just a question.

  6. Centuri0n,

    I'm *really* short of time right now, and I feel like I just wasted it trying to untangle your prose. Check this out:

    So when you object to me for trying to equate the Gospel and the civil law (which I do not do), think about the impact having the actual Gospel -- that is, all of God's truth -- as the basis for the things that are and are not illegal (which is what I have been saying over and over and oner ...). The law with the Gospel in it is radically different than the law which does not intersect with the Gospel.

    What the heck are you saying?! :-) You don't want to 'equate' the gospel with the civil law, but nevertheless you want the gospel 'as the basis for' the things that are illegal. The law needs to 'intersect' with the gospel even though the gospel is 'radically different' from the law. What?

    I can't tell if you want to repeal the First Amendment, or what? Help me out here. Are you recommending that Christian citizens of the USA work to get a specifically *Christian* definition of marriage on the books (complete with analogies to Christ and the church)? Or is it the opposite: that since getting anything *less* than a distinctively Christian definition of marriage on the books is somehow in conflict with gospel principles, that therefore it's a complete waste of time?

    If you can help me out on this one paragraph, I might try to address the rest.

  7. JD: I didn't realise that you needed short sentences. I'll try again using 6th-grade construction:

    You are wrong to object to my view. I do not equate the Gospel and the civil law. I object to the Gospel being completely apart from the civil law. You should think about how the Gospel ought to affect the civil law. All of God’s truth ought to be the foundation (oops – that a 3-syllable word) of our civil laws. That is not limited (oops, 3 syllables again) to only the Decalogue (oops) but what the Decalogue (oops) points to, which is Christ. I have said that over and over and over. The law with the Gospel in it is different (oops, 3 syllables again) than the law we have today. The law we have today does not intersect (oops, 3 syllables again) with the Gospel. This is a radical (oops, 3 syllables again) paradigm (oops, 3 syllables again) shift. The ECBs are not even in the same ballpark as this view of the Gospel changing the culture.

    Of course, now your objection is “so now we are wasting our time?” The answer is “yes – because we are working toward the wrong end.” That doesn’t mean abandoning (oops, 4 syllables!) political (oops, 4 syllables!) activism(oops, 4 syllables!): it means reforming (oops, 3 syllables again) our political (oops, 4 syllables!) activism (oops, 4 syllables!).

    If you need this broken down to a 3rd grade reading level, we can do that, too.

  8. BTW, if you think the 1st amendment means "the church ought not to actively influence the state", you're not half as smart as you think you are.

  9. Frank,

    I realize that Triablogue is a forum in which alpha males butt heads, but to judge by your latest reply to JD, are you sure that you're not the one who's using the flame-thrower? The heat-level would melt tempered steel!

  10. Steve --

    I used the flame thrower. I admit it. It was wrong.

    JD --

    In the interest of tossing some sand on the fire, do I need to re-state my response in a civil tone?

  11. Centuri0n,

    Why you thought my problem was with the *length* of any of your words or sentences, is anyone's guess. Where did you get that from?

    So, I simply repeat my comment above. Let me know if and when you can explain what you are saying.

    You might want to start by giving a direct answer to my last two questions in that comment.

    In addition, you now add that "the Gospel ought to affect the civil law". I'm giving you an opportunity to say specifically what you mean. Unless I can figure out what you're saying here, I'm afraid I can't recognize in it either a real criticism of my view, or a distinct alternative to it.

    I *don't* "think the 1st amendment means 'the church ought not to actively influence the state'. However, it does say that Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion. One would think that incorporating a specifically *Christian* definition of marriage into civil law, complete with Eph 5 analogies to Christ and the church, would do exactly that (assuming the relevance of stare decisis for just a moment). Perhaps this isn't your view. But then again, that is the point: I haven't yet grasped just what it is you're proposing.