church and state

This tag is associated with 4 posts

The State as Ultimate Authority- Leland vs. Hobbes

There is a tendency in the modern age to turn the nation state into the ultimate authority and arbiter among people. Thomas Hobbes, the English philosopher who focused on political philosophy, remains deeply influential to this day. In his work, Leviathan, he proposes the “social contract” theory of governance in which basically sees the individual as ceding some powers to a controlling interest like the government in exchange for things like protection. What many fail to acknowledge is that Hobbes also felt this would be best implemented by an autocratic state with an absolute sovereign. Yet many modern political theorists continue to fall under this same spell of creating an absolute or ultimate authority of the nation state. Included in this is the presumption of secularism in which an alleged neutral secular government may arbitrate all governance and even international politics.

Moreover, as William Cavanaugh has rather convincingly argued in his The Myth of Religious Violence, what often happens in these cases is that violence is given over to the nation state and whatever violence is perpetuated by that nation state is sanctified as neutral and secular, therefore making it “right.”

Yet these concerns are not new. John Leland (1691-1766) addressed these concerns in his own discussion of Hobbes in his work, A View of the Principle Deistical Writers that Have Appeared in the Last and Present Century (1764):

In Mr. Hobbes we have a remarkable instance what strange extravagances men of wit and genius may fall into, who, whilst they value themselves upon their superior penetration, and laugh at popular errors and superstition, often give into notions so wild and ridiculous, as none of the people that govern themselves by plain common sense could be guilty of… Mr. Hobbes’ scheme strikes at the foundation of all religion… That it tendeth not only to subvert the authority of the scripture, but to destroy God’s moral administration…. it confoundeth the natural differences of good and evil… taketh away the distinction between the soul and the body, and the liberty of human actions…. [Hobbes’ deism] erecteth an absolute tyranny in the state and church, which it confounds, and maketh the will of the prince or governing power the sole standard of right and wrong… – 34-35.

Unpacking this point, we see that Leland argues that Hobbes’ system of government ironically does the very thing that he and many deistic writers of his time accused Christianity of doing–creating nation states where people were obligated to act or believe in certain ways by coercive force–while also going beyond it. Hobbes’ plan takes away any possibility of judging the nation state to be in the wrong. Instead, the “will of the prince or governing power” becomes the “sole standard of right and wrong.”

We see this problem today when nation states are given all authority to kill others. Vietnam, the war in Iraq, and many more examples could be raised. But criticism of such activities is often ceded to internal critique, and the ultimate arbiter is the decision of the nation state.

While some would argue that giving all power to the nation state makes a kind of neutral ground that allows for the flourishing of any worldview, the opposite is often the case, as nation states begin to thwart freedoms of the individuals in favor of the nation state’s supremacy. Though it is possible to arbitrate conflicts of worldview utilizing the nation state as a ground to do so, it also means that the nation state has final authority in such moral decisions.

Intriguingly, individuals often find themselves in the position of defending the actions of the nation state, even when they know that those actions may be wrong. Whether it is allegiance to a political party or person that becomes valued more highly than one’s own moral compass, people begin to dismiss or defend the nation state’s authority to determine right from wrong.

I believe Leland came out well on top of Hobbes and other deists throughout his exchange, and his warning ceding too much authority to the governing powers is well on point.

Links

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SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Against the Idolatry of the State – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

dietrich_bonhoefferThere is virtually nothing so nefarious as putting our trust in the state or in patriotic hope that our nation will be our savior. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man executed by the Nazis for his religious opposition to their totalitarian regime, spoke frequently on the great danger of putting our hope in nations or organizations. One of the nefarious ways that patriotism or statism can become idolatry is when people put their hope in individual leaders:

If the leader tries to become the idol the led are looking for–something the led always hope from their leader–then the image of the leader shifts to one of a mis-leader, then the leader is acting improperly toward the led as well as toward himself. The true leader must always be able to disappoint. This, especially, is part of the leader’s responsibility and objectivity. (DBW 12, II/9 cited in Schlingensiepen, 117)

We have a way of rushing to put our hopes or trust in individuals. Bonhoeffer recognized this and even acknowledged that the leader-as-idol is not necessarily something the leader does unilaterally; often it is something that we people want ourselves. We want to be led–we want our leaders to be perfect. Such devotion can lead to our leaders mis-leading by taking up the praise we offer and becoming our idols. Woe to a church that is afraid to call out leaders for wrongdoing.

Individuals are not the only way we make idols of our nations. We can put our hope in nations rather than just in individual leaders. We may begin to speak of the righteousness of the nation, the honor of a people, or the holiness of the state. We may not use these words, but when we dismiss wrongdoing of our own nation, or when we argue that one nation is to be put above all others, we have effectively done just these things. Responding to the question asked in 1932 of why the church is afraid, Bonhoeffer said these convicting words:

Because it [the church] knows there is a commandment to peace, and yet with the clear vision that is given to the church, sees the reality that is full of hate, enmity, violence. It is as if all the powers on earth had conspired together against peace, as if money, the economy, the drive to power, even the love of one’s fatherland have been dragged into the service of hate…

How could it be anything but blasphemous mindlessness, if we were to declare ‘No more war!’ and think with that, and a new organization–even a Christian one–we could exorcise the devil? Such organizations are nothing…

Christ must be present among us in preaching and sacrament, the Crucified One who made peace between God and humankind. The Crucified One is our peace. (DBW 11, 354-355, cited in Schlingensiepen, cited below)

The message is clear: putting hope in any institution is itself idolatry and blasphemous. That institution may be a para-church group, a church, or even a nation-state. The only true hope–the only possibility of hope–is found in Christ alone. Whenever we cease to acknowledge that–whenever we put our hope in anything else–we have committed blasphemy and are called to repent.

Source

Ferdinand Schlingensiepen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance (New York: Continuum, 2010).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Political Church” by Jonathan Leeman

pc-leeman

Jonathan Leeman’s Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule is a detailed study of the interaction between Christianity and the public sphere. Leeman’s central thesis is that the church, as the local assembly, acts as an embassy–a political place in which Christ’s rule on earth is present.

The book is broken up into 6 lengthy chapters, each building on the last, as Leeman argues for his thesis. The first two chapters address the questions “What is politics?” and “What is an Institution?” From there, Leeman builds on politics of creation, the Fall, the New Covenant, and the Kingdom.

One of the most critical areas of the book is that there is no such thing as a totally neutral ground from which to build a political system. There is no religiously neutral political philosophy. To make the case for this central point, Leeman draws extensively from people like William Cavanaugh and Stanely Hauerwas. Essentially, the point is that because one’s religious beliefs (or alleged lack thereof) govern, effectively, all areas of one’s thought, one cannot excise them without effectively abandoning those beliefs, thus going against them. There is much more to this argument, but it is one of the many fascinating areas Leeman highlights.

Exactly how does the church act as an embassy for Christ? The sixth chapter, “The Politics of the Kingdom,” presents a number of fascinating insights into this question. Leeman takes a deep look at the notion of the “Keys of the Kingdom,” drawn from Matthew 16 (334ff). This discussion draws from multiple commentaries and spans questions from “what is the church?” to “how ought we perform church discipline?” to whether the church ought to function as a kind of civil magistrate. These kind of deep questions permeate the pages of Political Church such that readers will want to spend a great deal of time poring over the text and reflecting on the points therein.

There are a few areas worth critiquing in the book. First, much discussion time is spent on the notion of how exactly God’s covenant went from old to new covenant, but this all plays out on a kind of amorphous theological backdrop such that it is difficult to determine exactly what Leeman is saying. Is he pushing a kind of dispensational theology? At points it seems so, but other times it does not. Because the theological point here is not central to his book, Leeman doesn’t give readers enough to see where he’s coming from, particularly in chapter four’s (The Politics of the Fall) discussion of different covenants.

Another difficulty is, admittedly, drawn from a minor point in the book. Leeman states explicitly that, “if membership in the new covenant requires both the activity of the Spirit and the assent of the individual to God… then membership in… the church… should… be restricted to those who give their assent. To place infants born into a ‘Christian’ nation onto church roles misidentifies God’s presence, reputation, righteousness and justice…” (272). On the one hand, his notion that membership in the church requires both the Spirit and assent is explicitly tied to his understanding of the body of the church as a political one. On the other hand, although he stresses that exact point, it is never clear exactly what that means in terms of justification. This takes us away from the purpose of his book, but given statements like these it seems clear that justification is at least some part of what he is referring to. Justification is the work of the spirit, saving people who are dead slaves to sin who cannot free themselves. But if that’s the case, then his objection to infants being placed on church rolls seems to fall apart, for although infants cannot express consent, that does not seem to be required for the doctrine of justification. As a Lutheran particularly, I affirm that infants may have faith, because faith is a gift of the Spirit rather than an act of humans. Yet even here, Leeman might object noting that he is speaking in political terms rather than in the terms I am using.

A final difficulty is with Leeman’s reading of Luther’s Two Kingdoms model. Although he does avoid the most egregious misinterpretations of Luther on this point, Leeman argues that Luther’s model turns God’s people/not-God’s-people into church/state or Word/state. Then, he argues that the Bible and the church have words for those who are not God’s people as well and the state rules over God’s people (274-275, for example). But this is not what Luther’s model entails. It’s not that church/state on Luther’s model never interact; indeed, Leeman’s own conception seems to be extremely close to the core of what Luther was getting at in his doctrine of Two Kingdoms. He constructs it around the idea that there are two ages rather than two kingdoms, and that there are two kinds of life- secular and eternal (275). Yet even this speaking of two ages ultimately comes back to noting that there is “present simultaneity of the ages,” leading one to wonder how far from “two kingdoms” that exist simultaneously Leeman’s own argument truly is. This does go beyond Luther, but I think it’s the direction Luther’s own teaching was aiming towards, and it is interesting that Luther draws frequent mention as being close, but mistaken (29-31; 177; 275; etc.).

These minor points, though I have labored over them, do little to take away from the monumental importance of this work. Leeman has done a tremendous service to those interested in delving deeply into a theological vision of church and state. Each chapter brings together exegesis, philosophy, and sociology in informative, often surprising ways.

Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule is an important work that is sure to influence all who read it, whether they agree with the contents or not. It is essential reading for those curious about the interplay between Christianity and politics. I highly recomend it.

The Good

+Engages with multiple voices throughout church history
+Generally offers balanced, ecumenical perspective
+Blends exegesis, systematics, sociology, and more
+Extensive interaction with experts in related fields

The Bad

-Wrongfully excludes children and infants from Christ’s Kingdom
-Somewhat vague on some theological points

Source

Jonathan Leeman, Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2016).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 3/11/16- Aquinas, Syria, church and state, and more!

postI hope you’ll enjoy the latest round-up of really recommended posts for you, dear readers! This week, we have Aquinas on faith, a response to a claim about Jesus’ view of women, church and state, and Syrian refugees as topics. Let me know what you think, and be sure to let the authors know as well!

Response to Kevin DeYoung’s “Our Pro-Woman, Complementarian Jesus”– Philip Payne is a fantastic biblical scholar, and here he dismantles an article from complementarian Kevin DeYoung in which the latter argued that Jesus would agree to the subordination of roles for women. Also check out Part 2 of the response.

Aquinas on Faith and Reason– Thomas Aquinas had some intriguing things to say about the relationship of faith and reason. So often, people dismiss faith as patently absurd or against reason. Is that the case? Check out this post to see Aquinas’ insight.

The Church is Not the State– Some timely words regarding interpreting Scripture in light of our own nation.

The Syrian Refugee Crisis Moved Into My Neighborhood– Sometimes the best way to discuss controversial topics is to look at case studies. Here is a specific story from someone who had Syrians move into her neighborhood.

 

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