O’Donovan on Objective, Ethical Orders

Part of the natural law debate depends on identifying an objective order in God’s creation.  I have no problem with such a task; my contention is on identifying the ethical content of such an order.  I will take my cue from Oliver O’Donovan’s Resurrection and Moral Order (1994).  O’Donovan gives numerous helpful discussions, and unlike the modern natural law theorist, he is fully aware of the problems in such a task.    A fresh tactic of natural law theorists today is to posit an objective moral order in which man lives.  This is much better than the old “pop-Thomist” account which posits a “two-storey” theology:  Jesus gets to have a spiritual realm while “natural” man gets to have an autonomous realm.  Jesus’s claims, specifically the Trinitarian claims, have to stay out of natural man’s claims (Geisler and Feinberg, 1997, 175-176).   This is known as “not inviting God to the party.   Ralph Smith gives the appropriate response, “This is a precarious methodology for both theology and ancient politics.  As Belshazzar discovered, God comes to the party whenever He pleases” (Smith, 2002, 66 n.9)!

O’Donovan notes, “The order of things that God has made is there.  It is objective and mankind has a place within it” (17).  I agree with O’Donovan 100%, and the natural law theorist probably does as well.   I take the argument a step further, though, and note a problem which O’Donovan clearly sees but the natural law theorist does not:  “The epistemological programme for an ethic that is ‘natural’, in the sense that its contents are simply known to all, has to face dauntingly high barriers” (19).  In other words, be specific about the stipulations in such an ethic.  This is why O’Donovan’s project is superior, for he adds the next premise:  “We may only conclude that any certainty we may have about the order which God has made depends on God’s own disclosure of himself and his works.”  This is why O’Donovan warns against divorcing “natural, creation” ethics from “kindgom” ethics (read: Special Revelation).  He says, This way of posing the alternatives is not acceptable, for the very act of God which ushers in his kingdom is the resurrection of Christ from the dead, the reaffirmation of creation” (O’Donovan, 15).   At this point any common ground between covenant-keeper and covenant-breaker evaporates.  We cannot as good Christian theologians talk about God’s creation apart from the rest of the story:  God’s re-creation in the resurrection of Jesus Christ (and the ascension).  At the end of the day it is not enough for a covenant-breaker to look at a squirrel and simply come to the conclusion, “I suppose there is an objective order after all.”  Rather, the goal is to get him to bow the knee to the Ascended and Reigning Christ.

The Objective Order and Demons

There is another problem with Christian theorists simply resting with a natural, objective order apart from the revelation and re-creation in Christ.   Paul writes, “When we were children we were slaves to the elemental spirits (stoichea) of the universe: (Galatians 4:3).  O’Donovan comments, “These elemental spirits are actually identified with the law given by the hand of angels on Mt. Sinai, and yet at the same time they are the beings which by nature are not gods, to which even the formerly Gentile pagans were in bondage (4:8-9)!  How can Paul so daringly associate the revealed morality of the Old Testament faith with the superstitious idolatry of paganism?  Because the order of creation, whether in a pure or impure form, can encounter us only as a threat” (22).

There is an evangelistic opportunity here, to be sure, but there is also an implicit warning with stopping at created order from an unredeemed perspective.  My goal here was not to refute natural law, but to ask an epistemological question–what is the content of natural law and to explore the limits of natural law.  We have seen the limits above; we shall yet see if the question is answered.

Works Cited

Geisler, Norman and Feinberg, Paul.  An Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective.  1980 reprint. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997.

O’Donovan, Oliver.  Resurrection and Moral Order. 1986 reprint.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1994.

Smith, Ralph.  Paradox and Truth: Rethinking Van Til on the Trinity.  Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2002.

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Donald Cargill: No King But Christ

Grant, Maurice, No King but Christ

The best way to describe Donald Cargill’s life is “Richard Cameron minus the muskets.”  He stood for the same principles as Cameron but ultimately did not actively confront the government.  Cargill’s life is not that different from other Covenanter field preachers, but he is set apart in that he excommunicated the king and thought out a coherent (if too cautious) theory of resistance.

No King But Christ, The Story of Donald Cargill  -     
        By: Maurice Grant

Like Cameron and other field preachers, Cargill rejected compromises like the Indulgence (an interesting study would be to compare the Indulgences of the post-1660 Indulgences to today’s 501(c)(3) exemptions; warning: you will lose your job as an academician if you do so). They saw this as a concession of Christ’s royal prerogatives, not only to the state, but to a debauched and degenerate monarch.  Who ruled the Church?  Jesus or the State?   It is important to point out that both sides saw their claims as absolute (shades of Rushdoony!).  If the Erastian position is true, then any resistance to his ecclesiastical claims is in fact a resistance to his civil claims.   A conservative theorist can no longer simply say, “We will resist you in the ecclesiastical realm by spiritual weapons, but we won’t resist in the civil realm.”  The Erastian (quite consistently) sees no such distinction.

Resistance

If such was the opposition between church and state, then it is hard to avoid the outcome.  This is where I think Cargill was inconsistent.  He saw the issues as clearly as Cameron did (or even more clearly), but he refused to follow the applications like Cameron did.   At his trial, his Erastian accusers asserted that Cargill’s Melvillian 2-Kingdom view led to civil disobedience (and granting their premises, they were correct):  since the Crown was metaphysically one (cf. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies), any rejection of one aspect of its sovereignty, pace Head of the Church, is in fact a rejection of the Crown entire.   As Grant notes, it is civil, not ecclesiastical disobedience.

Second issue:  Charles II had sworn to abide by the sanctions of the Solemn League & Covenant–he based his legitimacy on them (which covenants, the Word of God calls binding, Galatians 3:15).  He broke the covenants; therefore, he forfeited his legitimacy over Presbyterian Scotland.  It was on these grounds that Cameron took up arms (and on other legitimate grounds; lawful self-defense and defense of the helpless, which natural law says we can do [it’s so fun to appeal to natural law when it comes to resistance; critics of theonomy don’t know what to do with that! LOL]).  And since Charles’ troops were raping and murdering their way across Presbyterian Scotland, Cameron’s struggle was a limited, defensive war which had already been justified by Samuel Rutherford.

Cargill refused to follow Cameron on these principles, but I think Cameron was right.  Given the Crown’s metaphysical assumptions, it made no sense to plead for a partial resistance.  Given that the oaths that Charles II swore to implicitly called for his removal if he broke them, resistance was justified since the law implied that.

Notwithstanding, Cargill died well.  The book is well-written and the endnotes provide a gold mine of interesting information.   Interestingly, in this book Grant is quite critical of Cameron’s actions, but in Grant’s biography of Cameron written over a decade later, he tries to justify Cameron’s actions.

Is the PCA going liberal?

This question rages on the major message boards.  The initial answer seems to be “no.”  For those of us in former Baptist circles, who fought old-school liberalism to the death, and have the scars to prove it (no joke; I was actually physically attacked in college on this point), it would seem that the PCA isn’t going liberal.  The denomination believes in inerrancy (sort of) and the Westminster Confession (loosely speaking).   The objection seems to be:  if we say the PCA is going liberal, that waters down the term.  The PCUSA is liberal and there is a big difference.”

But the road to liberalism takes different turns.  This morning i just finished rereading Gary North’s Westminster’s Confession: The Abandonment of the Van Til Legacy.  Other issues about theonomy aside, North made several observations which seem to have been vindicated:  With the hiring of Ed Clowney as President, Westminster Seminary moved towards a broader evangelical base.  They never rejected the old Confessionalism, but with the move towards neo-Evangelicalism it became harder to maintain the old Confessionalism.

I actually think Westminster Philly moved back towards a more confessional stance in the last ten years.  However, what North projected of WTS actually is true of the PCA.  If by liberal one means “denying the supernatural,” then the PCA isn’t going liberal, at least not anytime soon.   I think it is better to say they are going “neo-evangelical,” best represented by Christianity Today.  Is neo-Evangelicalism liberal?  Not at first glance.  However, most neo-evangelical movements eventually go liberal.   Christianity Today, a bastion of supposedly right-wing Christianity, at one time hosted a symposium and invited (if not endorsed) pro-abortion physicians and theologians (one of the theologians, by the way, who endorsed abortion, also wrote an essay in Theonomy: A Reformed Critique; just thought I would throw that out there.)

Here is the difference between liberals and mainstream status quo institutional conservatives:  liberals are cunning and they know they are consistent in terms of their covenant-breaking (whereas conservatives think liberals will adopt a common-ground neutral playing field, Roe v. Wade notwithstanding).   They know just how to play the game to marginalize conservative.   And in terms of the PCA, they probably don’t even see themselves as “liberal.” I don’t even think they are liberal.  However, history does play out that when Confessional bodies seek the lowest-common denominator, they usually get it.  At which point the question comes up:  how exactly are you Confessional?

Prolegomena to free-will discussions

The Reformed theologue is usually tarred as manichean, since he denies “free will.”  (If you are not seeing the connection, don’t worry too much about it.).   I wonder how many of these people have actually read and listened to Richard Muller on free choice.  Muller notes (and I will provide page numbers and sources later; I am typing this from memory) that the Reformed believe in liberum arbitrium, free choice.   Can we believe in free will?  Well, it depends on how you define it.  Muller notes that the post-Reformation insistence on free choice and not free will safeguarded several metaphysical assumptions.   Free choice, as seen here, means a freedom to choose among limited options.  Drake notes,

The word freedom or free will has numerous definitions and many of these conversations are red herrings and straw men. Calvinists believe in free agency but reject free will. What is the difference? Free will defined: “the equal ability, under given circumstances, to choose either of two courses of action.” (Dr. Clark, Religion, Reason and Revelation, pg 202) In this sense there is not a determining factor operating on the will. Free agency/Voluntary Agency defined: The will is not determined by physical or physiological factors. Free agency is not free will, there is a difference. Infallible certainty rests on necessity though voluntary. An example: Judas’ betrayal was necessary, that is, it was predestined, determined and inevitable though Judas was a free/voluntary agent. There is also no compulsion or coaction.

It would be interesting to see how those who castigate Reformed necessitarianism respond to the problem of Judas.

Various Types of Theological Necessity

Turretin on different types of freedom

necessitas consequentiae (necessity of the consequences):  this is a hypothetical or non-absolute necessity.  It is brought about by a previous contingent act.  It refers to the necessity of the finite order.  There is no absolute necessity that God decree what he decrees, but since he has decreed so, he is bound to fulfill it.

necessitas consequentis (necessity of the consequent):  this is absolute necessity that refers to the opera ad intra.

Practical value of these distinctions:  it allows the theologian to intelligently and without confusion speak of both necessary and free acts.   Our acts are necessary in the sense that Providence is not subject to change.  But our acts are not absolutely necessary, since God was not bound to decree such.

The more I read of Richard Muller and other exponents of Reformed Scholasticism, the more I realize that the Reformation tradition had a rich and full understanding of freedom of choice.  The following is taken from Willem J. van Asselt’s Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism.Contrary to Arminian and Catholic charges, the Reformed view of a “necessary” will is not incompatible with “freedom,” provided both terms are understood correctly. Francis Turretin provides six different types of “necessity,” four of which the Arminian/Romanist must affirm are compatible with freedom: 1) necessity of dependence of the creature on God; 2) [Asselt intended to list the second type of necessity, but I don’t think he did], 3) every creature is dependent on God in terms of the future per God’s foreknowledge and decree. 3a) Asselt writes, “However great the creature’s freedom may be, these acts are still necessary from this perspective, otherwise God’s foreknowledge could be false and his decree changeable.” 4) free will must go with rational necessity, for must not a free action be a rational one? 5) Free will relates to moral necessity, or that of habit. If you do an action enough, whether good or bad, it becomes a habit, making it easier to do this action. Few will deny this observation. 6) The necessity of an event or the existence of a thing. If a thing is, it is necessarily.  This is an example of a necessity of the consequence.   It is not an absolute necessity.

In short, freedom can be determined because freedom is not absolute (Asselt, 162-163).

Necessity of the Consequent, Consequence

The necessity of the consequent is the necessity of a proposition behind the “then” in an if…then statement. The necessity of the consequence is the consequence itself. Ie, the implicative necessity. In the implicative necessity, neither the antecedent nor the consequent needs to be necessary. Only the necessity of the implicative relation counts. Take the two propositions:

(1) If I marry Marian, then Marian is my wife.
(2) It is necessary that Marian is my wife (if I marry her).

In proposition (1) it is contingent that I marry Marian. I did not have to do so. Only the implication between the antecedent and consequent is necessary. In proposition 2 it is the result of the conditional proposition that is necessary.

Proposition 1 does not imply proposition 2. Therefore, in an argument of implicative relation of necessity, both the antecedent and consequent can be contingent and not necessary. According to the Reformed scholastics, the necessity of the consequence corresponds with absolute necessity and the necessity of the consequent with hypothetical necessity. In this distinction, the Reformed scholastics combat the charge that the divine decree destroys the contingency and freedom of the world. Therefore, necessity and contingency are compatible and not contradictory.

Most important in this distinction is that it depends on God’s will ad extra. If the decision of the divine will is directed to contingent objects ad extra, then God’s will is contingent, too. In other words, God contingently wills all that is contingent. Created reality, therefore, is the contingent manifestation of divine freedom and does not necessarily emanate from God’s essence. For if this were the case, all things would coincide fundamentally with God’s essence, and the actual world would be eternal (198-199).

Do Calvinists Exist?

This was not written by Jay Dyer, but by “M.B.”  Since he only posted his initials, that’s how I will refer to him.

He begins:

The funny thing about the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate is that there is no such thing. What? That’s right. Calvinism does not exist, at least not any more than the Ku Klux Klan does

Presumably this is his thesis. Let’s see if he can defend it.

Reformed and Presbyterian elders and apologists live and only carry any sort of weight in a fantasy-land; the Videodrome. Calvinism was born 500 years ago, and it died 250 years ago. It showed up on the world scene in the mid 16th Century, and it walked out of the world stage in the 18th Century. How you feel about its rise and fall is one thing, but exist it does not.

This actually isn’t entirely false.   Calvinism did abandon its judicial theology (with the exception of a few Covenanting groups) in the 18th century (and had been officially outlawed in Britain in 1660 on pain of death).

Do you think Cotton Mather and John Winthrop would smile upon the legions of goofball Calvinist losers that blog about the wonders of their glory? Would they recognize cyber-warriors like “TurretinFan”, who apparently lives on his Mac (or PC) night and day, just because he’s their biggest (or only) fanboy left?

I’ve always been iffy on New England Puritans.  If I wanted to make a stronger case against Calvinists, I probably would have chosen other people.  Presumably the unspoken premises are: 1) Mather and Winthrop represent historic Calvinism in such a way that TF doesn’t.  Okay, provide evidence and supporting premises.

In all likelihood, if theocratic ideas were actualized, those men would burn at the stake (or consign to Rhode Island ) many of their supposed “successors” and “heirs”. That’s the inside joke in “the Reformed faith”, and everyone who has ever tried to take Rushdoony and North seriously on “the judicial laws” knows it.

Sadly, he’s right, though I think there are more theocratically-minded Calvinists than he lets on.

Having no objective ecclesiological reality to base any thing on, or to hand down any sort of concrete verdict about what constitutes ‘heresy’, so-called Calvinism’s elite boils down to factions and sects of geeky whites taking their best shot at each other over the most irrelevant and subjective crap imaginable. And when it’s convenient for them to discard objective standards, they’ll do so at the drop of a hat. They do it with the Early Church Fathers all the time.

How should one respond to this?  It seems more vitriol than argument.  There is an old secret in TV-news debates that when your opponent is speaking you should never make a facial expression of any kind.  If you seem visibly angry, then you lose credibility.  So, about an objective ecclesiology.  He needs to give us a bit more claim on what constitutes an objective ecclesiology. I think when MB wrote this he was still Roman Catholic.  I don’t think he is anymore.    As Bavinck notes, all truth claims have both an objective and subjective element.  The objective element is God-revealed-in-Christ.  The subjectivising part is when I process that epistemologically. It has to be internalized as I mentally process it.   Subjectivity is inevitable.  Does that mean relativism?  I don’t think so and no one has provided an argument that it does.   But to the quote above:  there is no actual argument so I don’t need to say anymore.

Just look at the webmaster of “A Puritan’s Mind”. He was a “Reformed Baptist” that “converted” to “Reformed Presbyterianism”. He wrote several retractions of his ‘covenantal’ case for credo-baptism. Yet, none of that matters in any real sense, except insofar as it got him to go from his little baptist sect to the Presbyterian sect on the other side of town. He didn’t break ties with the heretical credo-baptists, who he’ll align himself with at the drop of a hat against Presbyterians that differ with him over the issue of paedo-communion. He didn’t anathematize them for teaching that covenant children are unworthy of baptism, which the “Magisterial Reformers” were more than willing to do. It was a meaningless and arbitrary decision on his part, except at the subjective level, in that he has now decided his children would be candidates for baptism. Objectively speaking, all he has introduced is more ecclesiastical chaos; or else some seriously hard ramifications for Presbyterians about how to regard his “Reformed Baptist” buddies.

That may have been true ten years ago.  MacMahon is now firmly in the theocratic old-time Presbyterian camp that MB so laments as missing.  As to specifics, MB failed to list any so we can ignore the rest.

But of course, because they think neat things about TULIP, and they enjoy a good brew every now and then, the judicial laws of Moses concerning the heretic can be put aside. I mean, after all, how meaningful is baptism any way? It’s not one of the “important” doctrines, like supra vs. infra-lapsarianism.

When God granted me doctrinal repentance in the spring of 2012, I came to a realization:  the annoying aspects of Calvinism exist only in the internet.  When I go to a NAPARC church I just don’t see the above problems manifested.

Now, any sane person should be able to read that and laugh. And many do; especially the homeschooled kids that grow up in it. Daddy and his buddy hopping from sect to sect is just as relevant to them as the latest Coldplay song, and quite frankly, that sure sounds a lot better. Yes Virginia , there is a reason Puritanism didn’t last but a generation.

It lasted 3 generations and the reason it didn’t continue is because Charles Stuart II outlawed non-Episcopalian theology and turned Scotland into a killing field.  He literally killed off almost all dissent.  Don’t talk about stuff about which you are ignorant.

If you get into ‘classical Reformation’ theology, you will wind up going Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. I mean, you have to.

Splendid.  Provide an argument.  Ironically, I think I am the best counter-example to this.

So Luther thought Carlstadt, one of his professed supporters, who was a proto-type of Puritanical Calvinists, to be “crazy”. What does that mean about Gary DeMar or Doug Phillips? What would he think about some one as detached from him as your run of the mill RPCUS/CREC theonomist? They are not apart of the same institution as Luther, which Carlstadt was (i.e. the German state-church). They’re not similar in terms of where they were located in history, as Carlstadt and Luther were (German men coming out of medieval Roman Catholicism). If Luther were to look upon the Reformed “full quiver” street preacher crowd, or the “Truly Reformed” neo-Puritan gang, or even the Latin-knowing classicists of the “Federal Vision” crowd of ‘Luthbyterians’, he would cringe in disgust.

Exactly what’s the relevance here?  Of course Luther would sneer in disgust.   Luther rejected Reformed Theology.  This is familiar territory to anyone who spent more than five minutes reading church history.

The early Lutherans (Luther, Melanchthon, Chemnitz , etc.) viciously opposed the heresy of “Crypto-Calvinism”, some thing few (if any) Reformed elders well ever tell their flock. Do some research on it. If someone tried to enter a seminary in Germany in the 16th Century, with Calvinist ideas, they weren’t exactly received with any sort of charity, or a willingness to side-step such a “side issue”. No, there was no “Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals” in those days. That’s the stuff of fan-boys coming together out of mutual respect for irrelevance.

This is historically false.  Melancthon made rapproachment with Bucer, and Luther even hinted that Calvin’s eucharistology was not the same as Zwingli’s, which Luther (rightly) rejected.  Even Chemnitz, while fully rejecting Calvin’s view, did concede that the Reformed in their better moments approached something similar.  Chemnitz said of the reality between sign and thing signified there was a “union” of sorts (Chemnitz, 54).

Now some Calvinist will retort, “And you think Aquinas would recognize your typical traditionalist Catholic”? While I agree most modern American papists can’t hold a candle to so great a saint on a figurative level, they still hold a candle to them in a very real sense. You see, we celebrate the same Mass as Aquinas. Calvinists don’t even have the same substances present at their “worship service” as Calvin and Luther. Most have Welch’s grape corn-syrup/juice hybrid in place of actual wine. Say what you want about Catholics, but at least they get the most elementary and crucial forms of the faith correct.

Most Catholics I know are embarrassed by Thomas’s Aristotelianism of substance/accidents.  And if you think Catholics celebrate the same mass, then see here.  If you say that such is not representative, then you see my point.

Catholics have a visible communion of saints, the Real Presence, and a very real and meaningful continuity with the historic Church. That’s because it is the historic Church. Our priests have an apostolic succession that can be traced back to the twelve Apostles. The church is visible and hierarchical, and our buildings still have relics of its holiest members. The Catholic Church functions much like in the Old Testament nation of Israel, which, though this may come as a surprise to “neo-Puritan” theonomists, was denounced by John Owen as “the Judaical church” (Owen didn’t even like the Lord’s prayer –see volumes 14 and 15 of Owen’s Works).
Calvinism amounts to disgruntled baptists “playing church”.

This is a string of assertions with no argument.

What continuity do self-made pseudo-Calvinists, whom the French lawyer wouldn’t even understand, have with their past? Knox’s grave is buried underneath a parking lot in Scotland . And lest they speak of the decadence of modernity for not honoring so “great” a man, they need remember that, if Knox weren’t 6 feet under, he’d be taking a sword to their necks for their hypocritical celebration of Christmas (which just about every Calvinist does to some degree or another, without regard for the ‘purity’ of ‘the gospel’). Calvin’s Geneva is not going to be reincarnated by malcontent Scotch-Irish American goofballs any more than Forrest’s Klan is going to be by the efforts of backwoods trailer-trash.

And?  The rest of the article, loosely-so-called, is a series of the same vitriol   He basically lambasts “Calvinists” (having never historically defined the term) for not being true to their heirs.   Anybody can play this game. At most it simply proves that today’s “Calvinists” are inconsistent.  It does nothing to prove the truth or falsity of the system itself.  And I note he did not deal with the guys at SWRB, who would largely agree with his disgruntlement.  To paraphrase Gary North, My post wasn’t a great post.  It wasn’t even a good post.  It just had to be better than M.B.’s post.

Upcoming posts on Natural Law theory

I am going to look at the arguments from the Calvinist International and examine natural law theory.  Pun unintended, I plan to approach this with a neutral mind.   Granted, I’ve some reservations about natural law theory, but I also haven’t read too many good defenses of it, so perhaps I’ve argued against straw men in the past.  We’ll see.