The problems facing American Neo-Covenanting

There is much good in the Covenanter tradition, and this post will pain many (myself most of all).  But if they want an intellectual (Or even better, political) future then they need to own up to some challenges.  I honor and admire Richard Cameron and Alexander Peden (hey, they received extra-scriptural prophecy.  Anybody want to take up that one?).  I do not think, however, that the entire Covenanting tradition was able to hold the strings together.  And that’s not just my take on it. I think Moore argues the same thing (Our Covenant Heritage). These challenges are not simply my making up because people started slandering Christ’s elders in his church on Facebook (like Stonewall Jackson).  They point to deeper issues.

While the problems in the Covenanter tradition can easily point back to the Battle of Bothwell Bridge (cf Maurice Grant’s biographies of both Cameron and Cargill; excellent reads), I was alerted to some of the tensions by T. Harris.  Again, I am writing this so Covenanters can work out the difficulties now instead of having to make hard and fast choices on the field of battle later.   You can be angry with me, but I am your best friend.

1.  The Hatred of the South

This is myopic and almost unhealthy.   Modern covenanting talks about how evil the South is and never once tries to work through the sticky issues of how best to help freed slaves.   Or slaves who didn’t want to be freed.  As evil as slavery might have been, simply throwing the blacks out on the street only it makes it worse.   The slave-owners (and many slaves) knew this.

And it really comes back to the question:  is the relation between master and slave sinful?  This is a very specific question.  This is why Freshman atheists have a field day with us.  But I know the response:  buying stolen property, especially human property, is sinful.  Perhaps it is, but didn’t Paul know this when he outlined healthy parameters for both masters and slaves?  How do you think the ancient Romans got slaves in the first place?  Democratic vote?  They were often prisoners of war, babies of raped women, and worse.  And does Paul say, in good John Brown fashion, “Rise up slaves and kill your masters” (though to be fair John Brown actually killed white Northerners)?

Northern Covenanters love to boast on how they “deny communion to man-stealers.”    Harris notes in response,

Athenagoras, defending the church against the pagan charge of cannibalism said, “moreover, we have slaves: some of us more, some fewer. We cannot hide anything from them; yet not one of them has made up such tall stories against us.” (Early Church Fathers, ed. C.C. Richardson, p. 338). But Alexander McLeod says to the slaveholder, “you cannot be in the church,” (p. 25) and this posture was eventually ratified by the entire covenanter church. On this point, their righteousness exceeded even that of our Lord and the apostles. And that is heady stuff.

Am I saying we should have slaves today?  Of course not.  But we need to seriously think through these issues instead of giving non-answers like “Christianity provided for civilization to move forward without slavery.”  To which I say, “early Medieval Russia.”

2.  The strange love-affair with Lincoln

This is odd, too.  Lincoln really didn’t care for Christianity and he routinely made darkie jokes.   He was the biggest white supremacist of the 19th century.  He ran on the platform, in essence, that he would not free a single slave.  My Covenanter friends–you are being deceived.

Someone could respond, “You’re just angry that the South lost.”  Perhaps, perhaps not.  That brings up another point

3.  Consistently outmaneuvered politically and militarily

Why is it that the Covenanters who have such a heroic (and rightly earned) reputation for godly resistance during the Killing  Times have routinely been outmaneuvered in the public square?  I’ll give three examples: Bothwell Bridge, Cromwell, and The War Between the States.

Bothwell

The Covenanters had already proved themselves at Drumclog.  Further, Bothwell Bridge forced the Royalists into a chokepoint.   While the ultimate cause for the covenanters defeat was lack of artillery and ammo, the outcome was in the air for a while.   The problem was whether to allow Indulged parties to participate.  Granted, the Indulged sinned and were under God’s judgment.  Cameron and others were right to resist elsewhere, but Bothwell was not an ecclesiastical act.  It was a military one.   Indulged ammunition wasn’t sinful per se.

Cromwell

Covenanters call Cromwell the Usurper.   It is somewhat ironic given that these Covenanters had fought a war of defiance (rightly so) against the very same king.  I have to ask, though, precisely what did you expect when rallying behind the (well-known) debauched papal pervert Charles II?  Granted, he vowed the covenants.  Granted, he should have owned up to them.   Still, anyone could have seen how this was going to end.

How else was Cromwell to interpret this?   He knew the Covenanters were militarily capable, so he is seeing an armed host rallying behind the dynasty against which both had recently fought a war.  But even then, the Covenanters could have held him off and forced a peace.   Their actions at Dunbar as as unbelievable as they are inexplicable.  They had the advantage of both place and time.  Ignoring that, they decided to meet Cromwell on equal footing.  In response, Cromwell executed one of the most perfect maneuvers in military history (that was still studied and practiced in the 20th century by America, England, and Germany) and in effect subdued Scotland.

To make it worse, Grant notes that Cromwell’s subjugation of Scotland allowed the kirk to flourish spiritually.  Ye shall know them by their fruits.

Lincoln (again)

I must quote Harris in detail for full affect.

“Most of its members were enthusiastically for the war and anxious to participate in it as far as they could without violating their principle of dissent from the government.” (p. 58) This despite the fact that Lincoln himself constantly said the war was not about slavery. We now know Lincoln was a pathological liar; the covenanters must have known this in their bones as well, and gave vent to their approval of the “real reason,” concealed by Lincoln. At any rate, it is hard to imagine them getting so excited about a war that was about enforced union. In view of their history, that would be ironic indeed.

However, they exhibited a certain naiveté in two ways which may go part way to explain the madness. At one point, they concocted an oath to propose to the US as a basis for enlisting in the army, an oath that would be consistent with continued resistance to full submission. “I do swear by the living God, that I will be faithful to the United States, and will aid and defend them against the armies of the Confederate States, yielding all due obedience to military orders.” (p. 58) The charming bit here is the notion of defending against the armies of the CSA — armies which were purely defensive, and which would have been glad to disperse and go home, if it weren’t for the invading and marauding union armies. Somehow, they had built up a mythic view of an aggressive South, gobbling up adjacent lands by force of arms.

Covenanting on the Ground

This is open for discussion.  How exactly is National Covenanting going to work today?  Surely it means more than strong-arming congress in rejecting the First Amendment.

Note Bene:  Harris’s quotations are from David M. Carson. Transplanted to America: A Popular History of the American Covenanters to 1871. (Pittsburgh: Crown & Covenant Publications, n/d).

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The Anyabwile/Wilson debate

My take is different.  I am not here to defend the “Confederacy” or State’s Rights.  I am largely indifferent to the political minutiae of such issues.  My concern is that well-meaning Christians, rightly recoiling from concrete instances of racism, go beyond Scripture and proclaim as sin what Scripture does not call sin. This is the essence of Legalism.

I am not defending slavery. I am defending the Bible.  If the bible doesn’t call “slavery” a sin, then I can’t.  If the Bible doesn’t call for the Jubilee laws to be enacted on all Christians (whether or not that is a good idea) then we can’t say someone who doesn’t call for that is sinning.

Further, unless conservatives own up to the fact that the Bible sanctioned slavery as a regulation of ills in society, whether related to sin or just bad luck, they will lose every debate with humanists.

It’s difficult to follow this debate.  Neither debater does a good job collecting all of the posts for and against.  More often than not Anyabwile is not attacking biblical arguments but pointing out to Wilson that he is “insensitive.”  And?  After a while it gets hard to find yet new ways to “reconcile” or apologize for the infinite strands of racism.   Even worse, insensitivity isn’t  a biblical category.

Anyabwile begins with a list of agreements that most could agree on.  I do want to call attention to his “Jubilee” logic.  I agree that the Gospel liberates, but appealing to the Levitical Jubilee is problematic: 1) It’s in Leviticus so it isn’t immediately clear how it applies today (remember why Bahnsen got persecuted?) and 2) Jesus and the disciples did not make the connection between Jubilee logic and freeing slaves, whether or not such an inference is warranted.

Anyabwile rebuts Wilson for privileging constitutional arguments over GOd’s word.  If that is what Wilson truly were doing, then he’s wrong.  I don’t think that is the case, though.

Anyabwile writes,

Only an immediate end to slavery would have been consistent with the “jubilee logic” of the gospel and repentant of the “grievous sin” of racism upon which the practice was based.

I don’t want to sound cold or hard, but this isn’t true.  It flies in the face of Leviticus 25 (and if the Jubilee applies today, then so does chapter 25). And it is a matter of common sense that a person, white or black, who is culturally, educationally, and spiritually not as advanced cannot seriously participate in the advanced culture of a civilization.  Go to the ghetto today and tell me I am wrong.

Regarding #2: Speculation is vain.  We have no idea how slavery would have continued or ended if the South had won.  We do know that the Confederate elite:  Jackson, Lee, A.H. Stevens, and others rejected slavery and sought for better means of ending it.   Further, Wilson completely refutes Anyabwile’s logic:

For an American soldier to go the Middle East today and fight for “democracy” is also to fight against nations that don’t allow abortion-on-demand, and it is to fight for a nation that does. To help America is therefore to help abortion.

That is the most devastating rebuttal I have seen in the past few years.

Further, Wilson points out something painfully obvious:  Our obedience before God will be reckoned in how we dealt with the sins of our own era, not the sins of another. My central interest in all these historical issues has to do with how the legal principles that were laid down then are being understood and applied today.

Regarding #3 Anyabwile effectively concedes the debate to Wilson, only noting that we need to be gentle about “angular texts,” whatever that means.

Regarding #4:  I agree that the Constitution is a weak document and appeals to it are pathetically naive.

Elsewhere, Anyabwile tries to give concrete definitions on “racism” and “sensitivity.”  This is good, as many are notoriously vague on this point. He defines it as,

I would suggest it’s a certain inability or unwillingness to sense and lovingly consider the concerns, feelings, and perspectives of others across racial lines

Fair enough.   We should all be aware of common courtesy.  I’m just not clear on the biblical directive that I should use this as the filter for all truth and discussion.  Further, anybody to the left of Hillary Clinton is a racist by these standards.

He goes on to say,

So, who gets to decide? I don’t know if they get the final word, but the person so hurt should at least have the first word

 

Looks good on paper, but this can go back and forth.  Given the ubiquitous dominance of rap music, particularly its lyrics about women–white and black–does this count as a “hurt party?” (Just consult any Dr Dre song about white women getting raped and killed).  Anyabwile then gets to the heart of Wilson’s book, which I will address in another post.

 

On the Soul of the South

This is a hard post for me to write.  Somebody will be offended.  Since there is no avoiding that, the only fair thing to do is to piss everyone off.    And a warning note: some of the language I use will be coarse, but when I am using it I will be quoting Yankee generals, who as a general rule despised black people (contrast that with Stonewall Jackson).

This article has several goals:  I will use the thought and “soul” of High Southern culture to show the inadequacies of the Confederate position, the sinful hypocrisy of the North–which continues to this day, and to show the utter bankruptcy of modern Conservative thought (I like the moniker “High” as contrasted with “Old,” “New,” or worse, “Paleo.”  I will explain why below).

As to the actual legitimization of the Confederacy I have no wish to enter that debate.  I can give a passing answer: in terms of the Solemn League and Covenant, neither the Federals nor the Confederacy were ultimately legitimate.  See? I can make both sides angry. I will make a few passing remarks on the Confederacy, though.  I really don’t think Jefferson Davis was a competent leader.  No doubt he was morally superior to Lincoln, but Lincoln was a true genius; Davis was not.  Davis made a better martyr than he did a leader.  (Trick question:  If the Confederacy was necessarily treasonous, how come the US Government refused to try Davis for treason?)

A few words about slavery.  That the Bible does not categorically condemn slavery is another instance where the sons of this world are wiser than the sons of the kingdom.  Not only does the Bible legitimize forms of slavery, it is quite specific and provides details on how slavery (or indentured servitude) can better society.   I remember at RTS Jackson we got to Philemon in Pauline Theology.   Everyone was quick to point out that the Bible made it possible to get rid of slavery:

Me: Really, what verse?
RTS:  (Silence)

Don’t get me wrong:  I think a theology of dominion can place the discussion of slavery in a better light.  Following Rushdoony (Politics of Guilt and Pity) I believe that regenerate man is dominion man; he is a priest-king ruling over the new creation.  It’s usually better if he were free.  Of course, modern Reformed people are scared of dominion, so they really can’t combat the secularist on this point.  Chalk another one up to the sons of this world.

One thing I do not intend to give is a naive, pollyannish defense of “The Old South.”  I do think it was strong in areas we are weak.  Further, I think it’s existence (at least mentally today) sheds painful light on modern conservatives.  It is schizophrenic for modern American conservatives to condemn Obama’s big government yet praise Lincoln.  What was Lincoln but the consolidation of Federalism?  And while I love the Covenanters–and I consider myself in the Covenanter tradition on the Establishment Principle–and while I understand their desire to end slavery, I do not think they were wise to support Lincoln.  They are absolutely correct to condemn the anti-Christian nature of the American state.  How on earth do they support Lincoln, who further empowered this anti-Christian State beyond Richard Cameron’s wildest nightmare?

Conclusion

So where do we go from here?  As the current government spirals out of control the issue of secession will be inevitable.  I only pray we can have wise thinking beforehand.

regenerate and renewed south can sing with Dr F. N. Lee,

Now the Triune God must never be forgotten!
Again He’ll march through the land of cotton
and from here, Dixieland — we’ll yet win, America! 

For the Brave New World that now is so perverted,
in God’s good time is going to get converted
and the Earth, will get full — of the fear, of the Lord! 

Our God will yet revive us
and our King will bring
both Dixieland and Yankeeland
and all the world to serve Him!
Don’t shirk, let’s work,
and live the Gospel Story!
Begin, we’ll win,
and give God all the glory!

 

On fighting politics with politics and why it is bad

I am settling on a thesis that Satan co-opted the Federal Vision right where it could have had constructive promise.   Note of course that I fully reject FV.   Still, many of their perspectives on liturgy (to the degree they can be squared with the RPW) and Old Testament theology allowed one to reject Modernity, avoid postmodernity, and begin to offer a constructive Protestantism.    And then everything went to Hades.  And I don’t think that is coincidental.

So, this leads me to begin my “Merry Protestantism” project.  One doesn’t need to accept Leithart’s “End of Protestantism” thesis, but he does have a point that we really haven’t seen a truly constructive Reformed theology.   Bucer came close.  We have lived off of previous negations–and theologies built upon negations and apophaticisms do not long last.

And this leads to the point of the post:  I do not think it is helpful to oppose various political systems merely by acknowledging them as “the bad guys.”  Most thinking conservative Christians have probably by now come to the realization that the Republican Party had been pimping them (and probably literally sometimes, given Washington sex scandals) for votes.   This leads to several (ultimately doomed) alternatives:   the Ron/Rand Paul movement and various 3rd parties.  Having drunk deeply of Reformation politics, both of these are dead-ends.

Some Orthodox friends of mine have suggested a return to monarchy.  I actually like that idea.  I’m not entirely sure how it will get off the ground in America, but it’s no less Quixotic than voting 3rd Party.

Liturgy as Political Theology

This is where the FV actually had real potential.  They saw that liturgy–and at its most basic that word simply means an order of worship–was the enacting of another narrative, one which proclaimed Yahweh-in-Messiah as Lord over the nations.   The Lord’s Feast could even be seen as a new economics:  it pointed (signs!) towards the ultimate Kingdom feast that broke down the barriers yet still retained otherness and difference.  And if this is all that the Moscow-Canon Press writers would have said, well and good.  Unfortunately, the FV is now plutonium and these themes really can’t be handled today.

Typology as Theology on the Attack

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As a premillennialist I am a bit wary of excessive typologies.  Normally they run something like, “Well, John is using figurative language and that is a typology so this means premillennialism is false.”   All that may well be true, but that’s a lazy argument (though it might get you tenure at a seminary).  Still, seeing literary patterns in Scripture allows one to do biblical theology on a new front.   Had David Dorsey’s book on the Old Testament been written 200 years earlier, the Documentary Hypothesis would have never gotten off the ground (maybe that accounts for some of the academy’s anger towards Dorsey’s work).

Review of Erling’s World

This is one of the few books that attempts to present the Christian history of medieval Norway in a fair light. At times raw and blunt, Walker’s writing captures some of the “ragged faith” of Flannery O’Connor. His protagonists are never pretty. There is a comedic irony to it all: God really does choose the worst people to be his messengers.  If I could summarize Walker’s writing style in two words, it would be “Don’t flinch.”   There is nothing graphic here ala the torture porn of George Martin, but a few things are implied.  Such is life, though.  He doesn’t sanitize the Christian faith.

The pros of the book:
Walker does a good job at characterization and is ability to weave subplots (not plots, mind you). His crafting of a story and its difficulties, and the heroes’ ability to navigate these difficulties, reminds one of Terry Goodkind (without Goodkind’s penchant for sadomasichism). Secondly, Walker rightly notes that the gods of heathendom were quite real, contrary the bourgeoisie Evangelical, but were demons. When the Kingdom advances, it comes into sharp conflict with demons.

The book ends with  King Olav Trygvesson. There are few reliable accounts of Olav and while Lars’ is fictional, it is still more reliabl3e than most.  (The jury is out on how accurate Snorri Sturlosson’s account really is). Walker, perhaps not entirely realizing it, shows us the superiority of monarchy over polyarchy (e.g., democratic republicanism). In a harsh land, only a strong  king–one king, one law, one logos–can bring justice and order. (The chaos of modern America–analogous to the prophet’s commentary at the end of the book of Judges in the Bible: there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes).

Cons:
While Walker is a master weaver of subplots, his handling of plots is not the same. The book is episodic. I’m not quite sure what the storyline was, except in vaguest terms. I put the book down for a few months (my daughter was born) and picked it back up, but forgot what page I was on.  I just guessed somewhere in the middle . It didn’t matter. I was able to jump right in and not miss much. Incidentally, this story would make for an excellent television series.

Reflection

As I think back two years later (since first reading), I am impressed how much it “imprinted” itself upon my thinking and imagination.  The plot may not have been the most straightfoward, but the writing “grips” one.

The Constitution Argument won’t work

On one of the Facebook pages (Christ in Civil Government, or something like that), a certain prominent disciple of Rushdoony complained that if more people were outraged by our government’s violating the constitution as they were about Phil Robertson’s getting fired, our country would be a lot better.  I disagree; in the long run Phil Robertson will reach infinitely more people than “yet another argument for the Constitution.”  It’s really quite simple: nobody gives a damn about abstract, intellectual arguments.  The average man on the street, Christian or not, simply cannot understand (and quite frankly, doesn’t care about) the intricate details of political theory.  They do understand concrete details, though.  They can identify with an authentic, simple person who says what he means and likely represents the majority of Americans.

Ultimately, this is the same argument for something like monarchy.  This is why monarchy is so appealing.  “Value-talk” is abstract.  Only a few people can follow it.  Is it important?  Sure, but don’t inflate its importance.  (This is why apologetics is subject to the law of diminishing returns.)  What monarchy at its best moment points to is the embodiment in a concrete entity of the nation’s culture.  Maybe most people can’t articulate it like that, but there you have it.

Monarchy and Beards

We read in That Hideous Strength that the first time Jane Studdock looks at Ransom her world is unmade.  Why?  Because up until that moment Jane believes in a world of total egalitarianism.  Now she realizes, once again, in the depths of her soul, that hierarchy holds a deeper truth than the legal fiction of equality.  Lewis writes,

She had (or so she had believed)  disliked bearded faces except for old men with white hair.  But that was because she had long since forgotten the imagined Arthur of her childhood…for the first time in many years the bright solar blend of king and lover and magician which hangs about that name (Lewis is here referring to King Solomon) stole back upon her mind.  For the first time in all those years she had tasted the word Kingitself with all linked associations of battle, marriage, priesthood, mercy, and power.  At that moment, as her eyes first rested upon his [Ransom’s] face, Jane forgot who she was, and where…her world was unmade; she knew that.  Anything might happen now.

“With these words Lewis introduces us to the importance of monarchy.  It is vital because it reminds us that we do not live in an egalitarian world but rather a world in which hierarchy exists at all levels (144).

Will Vaus, Mere Theology