Thursday, November 13, 2008

VanDrunen on natural law, pt. 2

I’m continuing my examination of VanDrunen’s defense of 2k theory:

It may seem at first glance that looking at Scripture redemptive-historically actually rules out much hope of gaining biblical guidance in waging a culture war. Any moralistic approach would appear more potentially fruitful. After all, fighting a culture war is about action. Interpreting Scripture as if it centers around the redemptive work of God through Christ, as useful as it might be for understanding the Gospel message, does not immediately strike us as providing fertile ground for a development of social ethics. Perhaps this is why an evangelical Christianity so desperately seeking to be relevant finds a biblical-theological approach at best somewhat interesting theoretically, but quite unusable when it comes to setting forth the bottom-line. And how to live life here in the world, a topic under which social ethics falls, really is the bottom-line. Or so thinking tends to go.

The critic of biblical-theology is correct to a point. A redemptive-historical approach does not offer an immediate or easy answer to problems of social ethics, and if living life in this world is the bottom-line, then biblical-theology is somewhat irrelevant. Yet, biblical-theology would argue that living life in this world is not at all the bottom-line. And it would also argue that though it offers no easy and immediate answers to problems of social ethics, it provides the only firm foundation for discussing such issues, without which the Christian ethicist will sooner or later go wrong. Perhaps at times biblical-theology is short on specifics, but it is only by recognizing the big picture which biblical-theology provides that one has a solid basis on which to discuss specifics.

One of the questions this raises is the integration of natural law theory with biblical-theology. Are these logically related to each other, or are they simply glued together? Is one the primary foundation, while the other is tacked on?

On the face of it, his natural law theory seems to be more optimistic than his biblical-theology.

And it’s clear that he’s not getting natural law theory from biblical-theology, or vice versa. So what do they really have in common?

A Reformed biblical-theology demonstrates how their situation is so closely aligned with ours. Their situation was, in fact, typological of ours. We understand that the Promised Land of Israel was a new Garden of Eden, a holy theocratic land whose very ground was sacred. Only those in good covenant standing with God were allowed to remain there. Both these in turn were the protological types of the eschatological, eternal heavenly kingdom of God. We understand as well that the exile to Babylon was a new expulsion from the Garden of Eden. As Adam was convicted of being a covenant breaker, and no longer fit to live in the holy land, so the people of Israel, convicted of transgressing the covenant God made with them through Moses, were no longer fit to live in their holy land. Both these in turn were types of our situation today. There is no geopolitical nation today which can be called God's special holy land. We are a people in exile. We are a people who live with Adam east of Eden. We do not live under a Davidic king. The Mosaic Law is not our constitution. We, like the Israelites, live in Babylon. Little wonder is it, then, that New Testament writers used the term "Babylon" to represent the alien city in which God's church dwells (e.g. 1 Pet. 5:13, Rev. 18).

At this point it’s hard to distinguish typology from allegory. Yes, there’s a sense in which the history of the Chosen People prefigures the history of the church. But the Chosen People went through many stages: the prediluvians, the nomadic existence of the patriarchs, the captivity of the Israel in Egypt, the Exodus, the punitive nomadic existence in the wilderness, the conquest and settlement of Canaan, the punitive Babylonian deportation and captivity, the post-exilic restoration, the Interadventual Period, &c.

It seems very arbitrary for VanDrunen to single out the Babylonian Exile as the super type of the church. Why be so selective?

In terms of historical analogies, there are times when Christians are dominant, and other times when Christians are out of power or powerless and persecuted.

Why treat the historical situation in 1 Peter as if that were paradigmatic for the church age?

Again, to treat the Mosaic Law as totally unique and unrepeatable merely begs the question. True, the Mosaic Law is not our constitution. This doesn’t mean it contains no transcultural norms. The Mosaic Law is not an arbitrary fiat. It commends some conduct because some conduct is inherently commendable; it condemns some conduct because some conduct is inherently condemnable. It assigns certain penalties because they are inherently just. There’s more to the Mosaic law than ritual purities or impurities.

Many of the laws don’t typify anything. That’s not their purpose. Their purpose is to regulate a nation-state. Any just state would have many similar laws.

Some of the laws are antiquated in their specific form, but contain generic principles which retain their validity. Other laws are very closely tied to the socioeconomic conditions of the ANE or Israel’s tribal society. Still other laws are distinctive to the cultic holiness of Israel.

In verses 5 through 7 of Jeremiah 29, the prophet lists a number of things which the people were to do in regard to Babylon and the culture which surrounded them. He tells them to build houses and settle down, to marry and have children, and to pray for the peace and prosperity of the city where they lived. What strikes us about these instructions is their seemingly high regard for life in Babylon. The people were not to reject relations with the Babylonians and seek a violent return to their land.

Of course not! The Babylonian exile was a divine punishment. And they had to do their time.

To rebel would have been rebellion, not merely against their Babylonian overlords, but against the Lord of hosts.

Not only were the Israelite exiles not to shun interaction with the Babylonians, but they were also not to seek to reform it according to the Mosaic Law.

Once again, this overlooks the obvious. They were POWs. They were at the mercy of a hostile superpower. Of course they were in no position to impose the Mosaic Law on their masters.

And the Mosaic Law always drew a distinction between foreigners and members of the covenant. It wasn’t a case where it was either applicable to foreigners in toto or inapplicable to foreigners in toto.

For just as the Babylon of Jeremiah's day was legitimate, so is the Babylon of ours.

This is very equivocal. God had a providential purpose for Babylon. And even a corrupt state may be preferable to anarchy. But to say without further qualification that Babylon was legitimate disregards the many prophetic indictments of Babylon.

We must take care to heed the instructions of Jeremiah yet today. That these really are still applicable to the New Testament church is confirmed in passages such as 1 Corinthians 7:29-31.

The problem, once more, is how selective VanDrunen is in applying the OT to the NT church. Why limit yourself to a passage in Jeremiah regarding the Babylonian exiles?

It looks like VanDrunen began with his preconceived notion of the church, and that notion selected for the corresponding types and prooftexts.

1 comment:

  1. The White Horse Inn recently did a two-part series on the 2k system. They invited two senators - both sharing roughly the same theological background (or so they claim) but with different political ideals. It was an interesting listen.