Saturday, November 17, 2012

God save the queen

I’ll be responding to Ed’s latest reply:

A systematic problem running through Ed’s position is his persistent equivocation of terms. He never gets beyond slogans.

What I am against is using the Church as a politcal force to bring about pressure in the political process in order to impose Christian values on a godles culture that is not in the Christian group and is not expect to hold to Christian values in the first place.

It’s unclear what Ed is opposing.

i) Is he opposing it if “the Church” does it?

ii) If (i), how do he define “the Church”? Does he mean pastors? Laymen? Denominations?

iii) If not (i), is he opposing what is done, regardless of who (e.g. “the Church”) is doing it?

iv) Is he opposed to the imposition of values, or just the imposition of Christian values?

Does he support the imposition of non-Christian values, but oppose the imposition of Christian values?

v) Why should the expectation that people will share the values codified in law be a precondition of law? When we outlaw murder, we impose life-affirming values on would-be murderers whom we don’t expect to share the values of the lawmaker.

It is my view that the Church has become too political in modern American culture.

That’s funny. Many critics of the American church criticize the church for being too frivolous. Too entertainment-oriented. 

Did the apostles really address the gospel to the government or individual civil authorities?

Ed keeps leaning on the argument from silence. However, as is well-known, the argument from silence isn’t sound without further qualifications. Sometimes an argument from silence is plausible, but sometimes an argument from silence begs the question.

When you deploy the argument from silence, you need to show why there’s an expectation that something would be mentioned if it were true. For instance, someone can fail to mention something, not because it isn’t true, but because he and his readers take that for granted.

Moreover, is it lawful to use the Mosaic Covenant to shape the civil laws of gentile governments? I am not saying that it is a bad idea for a government to use the law in this way if that is what they choose to do. That is not the right question. The question lies in the imperative. Does God issue a mandate to governments to use the Mosaic Covenant as the foundation for their civil codes?

Notice how confused this is. He oscillates between suggesting it’s permissible and suggesting it’s unlawful. But it can’t very well be both.

Another good question is God’s requirements for the individual believers living under various forms of government. Does the Christian responsibility change from one system of government to another? I don’t think it does.

But by definition it does change. In the nature of the case, elected officials and American citizens have different legal and civic responsibilities than absolute monarchs and their vassals.

I come to the text with the presuppositions of a grammatico-historical hermeneutic. This hermeneutic provides the guardrails upon which my exegetical process moves.

Let’s see how faithful Ed really is to the grammatico-historical method.

Although the emperor, or king, or governor may be the mediate source by which society is ordered, God is the ultimate source.

That’s true under any system of gov’t.

The right Christian perspective about civil authority is that they are ordained by God for the good of society, even the worst of them. The NT writers never bother to tell us that this truth changes based on any particular system of government. Apparently, it applies to every system.

Once again, Ed is equivocating. What truth doesn’t change? The general truth that gov’t is ordained by God to restrain evil? Or the specific responsibilities of magistrates and citizens?

According to Paul, we are given an urgent divine imperative to pray for Barak Obama and every other politician in Washington and the states and districts.

That’s a red herring. Evangelical culture warriors are not opposed to praying for gov’t officials. So Ed is erecting a false dichotomy, as if prayer and political activism are mutually exclusive.

That Paul is concerned with civil authorities is impossible to miss in his writings. He is clearly concerned with the relationship between the Christian and Emperors, Kings, and Governors. He understands they set the tone for society. How does he think the Church should interact with them? Does he provide Timothy or Titus with a set of instructions for how he wants the Church to influence the civil authorities? He wants us to submit to them, all of them, and to pray for them. It is through living Christ’s values and through prayer that we have our best chance of influencing society it seems.

Notice how Ed violates the grammatico-historical method. He takes a NT text that refers to “kings” or “emperors,” then he substitutes the POTUS, as if Peter or Paul were talking about the POTUS. But that’s anachronistic. That’s putting words in the mouths of Peter and Paul.

When you apply the Bible to the modern situation, you ought to compare like with like. The office of POTUS is not interchangeable with a Roman emperor. A Roman subject is not interchangeable with an American citizen.

When you apply the Bible to the modern situation, you must make allowance for the dissimilarities as well as the similarities. The POTUS doesn’t have the same prerogatives as a Roman emperor. Conversely, American citizens have prerogatives that Roman slaves and plebeians did not.

Immediately after commanding the Roman Christians to over evil with Good, Paul says that everyone must be in subjection to the governing authorities. No exceptions are provided in the text. No qualifiers are given. Even if the government is one with which we disagree, subjection is the proper Christian response. Why? Governments are established by God. This is true even in a democracy.

Under our system of gov’t, elected officials are ultimately subject to the electorate, not vice versa.

While the Scripture mentions prayer as a means to possibly having a peaceful life, it nowhere instructs us to pray for the removal of civil leaders because of their ungodly views. God establishes civil leaders who have the most ungodly of views. Nero was profoundly wicked, yet God set him in the place of civil authority. He killed Peter and Paul and a host of other Christians. While God’s command to Nero personally was repentance, from a civil perspective Nero was God’s servant.
Paul tells us in v. 2 that everyone who resists civil authority also resists God. When the Christian sets out to fight against the current leader, he cannot avoid but fight against God. God has placed the current leader in office. It matters not if you are in a democracy. The important thing here is individual sin. We must be willing to ask ourselves if we sin by engaging in all sorts of efforts to remove the current leader.

i) Ed acts as though it is insubordinate for Christian Americans to exercise their statutory and Constitutional prerogatives and civic responsibilities. Ironically, Ed is the one who’s guilty of insubordination. It’s seditious for Ed to brush aside the statutory and Constitutional restrictions on Executive power, as well as the civil rights of Christian Americans.

If he’s going to keep invoking divine ordination, then, by parity of argument, God ordained our Constitutional system of gov’t. Ed is bucking the system that God ordained by refusing to submit himself to the nature of a republican democracy with popular sovereignty.

ii) BTW, Nero hadn’t begun persecuting Christians at the time Peter and Paul wrote Ed’s prooftexts.

We may address the wicked policies as policies that contradict the holy commands of God.

That’s a striking admission on Ed’s part. It’s hard to see how that’s consistent with his overall position.

But we are interested, not in changing the government, but in changing the individual. We are calling Barak Obama to repentance and faith in God, not in order to win the day and have our platform prevail, but in order that he may know life and know it more abundantly.

i) Obama is just one individual. His personal wellbeing doesn’t take precedence over millions of babies.

ii) Why should we not be interested in changing gov’t policies? Our system of gov’t gives citizens the right to change gov’t policies by expressing their will through their elected representatives, or by direct democracy (e.g. referenda).

Civil rulers are put in place to direct society as God sees fit. They are there to carry out God’s plan, whatever that plan may be.

American civil rulers are also put in place by voters. God employs the medium of the democratic process. That is also part of his plan. God’s plan includes secondary agents (e.g. voters) to implement his plan.

God indirectly puts civilian rulers in place while voters directly put civilian voters in place. By the same token, when voters remove civilian rulers from office (by electing for someone else), God is removing them from office.

Ed’s appeal to divine providence is selective and one-sided.

Steve Hays has made much of the Mosaic Law in his remarks on why Christians should be politically active. From my perspective, his general principles moving to logical inferences are nebulous principles employing incoherent logic that result in arbitrary and capricious applications.

Notice that Ed doesn’t attempt to demonstrate that my logic is incoherent. Ed doesn’t attempt to demonstrate that my applications are arbitrary and capricious. We’re just getting his unargued opinion.

The Mosaic Law belongs to Israel, to the Jew. God never gave the law to the gentile. Romans chapter two tells us that the gentiles do not have this law. Moreover, the law was given for a very specific purpose and to use it unlawfully is a serious matter as many false teachers did in the NT. It is illicit use of the law to say that secular gentile governments “ought” to employ it in their legal process. In addition, it is outside the scope of Christianity for the Church to take up such an initiative.

i) Ed is assuming what he needs to prove. As long as something is right or wrong, why does the source matter? Does the source make it right or wrong? Or does the source say it’s right or wrong because it’s antecedently right or wrong, even before that was committed to writing?

Is murder wrong merely because the Decalogue says murder is wrong? Is it the formal prohibition that makes it wrong? Or is it the wrongness of murder that gives rise to the prohibition? When the Decalogue forbids murder, doesn’t that acknowledge the antecedent immorality of murder? The prohibition codifies the moral status of murder rather than constituting the moral status of murder.

Nowhere in the Scriptures are Christians told that their mission is to produce a better, more moral culture.

This is the fallacy of question-framing. Frame the issue in tendentious terms. But that skews the real issue.

Both the OT and the NT state a variety of social duties. So we need to ask ourselves how those general obligations logically translate into specific actions.

Yet, this is exactly what American culture thinks about the Church. American culture thinks the Church uses religion or Jesus to push a conservative political agenda. They don’t see us loving them and simply giving them the gospel and doing good. They don’t hate us because we love Christ in many cases. They hate us because we try to force Christian values on the non-Christian group, and that is simply not the gospel and it is not how we are to be salt and light.

There’s more to loving unbelievers than “simply giving them the gospel.” If, say, Christians lobby to have the disabled legally protected from euthanasia, that is loving the disabled.

If some Americans hate us for protecting the disabled, that’s their problem. You can’t please everyone. What should we most care about? Protecting the physically and mentally disabled? Or the malicious opinion of some Americans who wish to euthanize the physically and mentally disabled? Which better exhibits neighbor-love?


  1. My response to Steve

  2. Steve, where did you and Phil Johnson discuss these matters? Thanks.

    1. Hm, perchance you're referring to the theonomy threads from years back?

  3. "Steve, where did you and Phil Johnson discuss these matters? Thanks."

    That's buried somewhere in the archives from years ago.

  4. It seems that in Ed's ideal world Christians should withdrawal from all political life from vocation to voting except to show up to share the gospel. If I am following Ed rightly, the most ideal society for Christians to live in would be the most godless, god-hating society in which the gospel can shine the brightest.

    How would Christians raise their children prior the children professing faith in Christ? Would there be no rules whatsoever in the home? Or since the home would be Christian, would the rules only apply in the home, but let go in public (school, etc.)? What if the child never professes faith in Christ while living in the home? Should the parents do away with rules and only share the gospel?

  5. Also, it is odd that Ed's position seems more inline with Rachel Held Evans article -
    My Take: The danger of calling behavior ‘biblical’