Review Moltmann Coming of God

Moltmann, Jurgen.  The Coming of God.  Fortress Press.

Alternates between promising and atrocious.   He has some great sections on the nature of death and time, which are about as good as any I have read.  He shows nicely how Revelation 1 contrasts with Greek thought:  Christ is the one who is, and was, and is to come (notice he did not say “will be,” which is what a good Greek would have said).  This shows in a nutshell that the future is the coming of God.

Then proceeds with an analysis of Constantinian and Augustinian models of eschatology.  If the Kingdom has come in the presence of the State (the former) or the Church (the latter), then while a future coming of Christ might still be hoped for, such a hope will be marginalized because the Kingdom is already now.

He then torpedoes his own ship with a strange rant–and there is no other way to describe it–with a plea to save the environment and third-world countries.  I felt like I was at an Al Gore eco-terrorist conference.  I am not a free-market capitalist, and I admit horrible things have been done to the environment, but his analysis is simply off.  He claims that the evil white man made Africa poor.   Granted, the evil white man did horrible things, but a better claim would be that the European exacerbated an already bad situation. Even before the European came, many tribes were selling each other into slavery, practicing magic, and worshiping idols.  The European didn’t cause that.  (I do agree with him on forgiving third-world debt.  I’m not sure it will fix anything, but it is a nice sentiment:  if a civilization doesn’t have a strong work ethic and a future-oriented vision, change will simply not happen.).

He ends with a nice section on the future feast of God, which is a much better model of the afterlife than merely contemplating the Platonic Forms for all eternity.

A question for Distributists (is this a moral refutation of distributism?)

This is from the English miniseries “The Devil’s Mistress,” which is actually a fantastic account of the English Civil War, and highly recommended.  The following is a purported conversation between Cromwell and one of his colonels, who was a “Leveller.”  Levellers were the communists of their day.  Cromwell responds to Rainsborough with a series of questions that modern Christian Distributists need to be upfront about.    If you (re)distribute land and wealth, you must admit that you are stealing.  Now, I would shed no tears if the fat-cat liberal media elite who make dozens of millions a year, had their wealth redistributed (preferably to me and not you haha).    Sinful and degenerate though they be, it’s still “stealing.”  (Unless of course, it is during war, then it might not be).

Thomas Rainborough:   The land must be a common treasury.   That way every man will feed himself.

Oliver Cromwell:  Where is that land to come from, Thomas?

Thomas:  From those who have too much.

Oliver:  You would have us turn to robbery, then?

So, the question for distributists:  do you admit you are forcibly taking someone else’s property?  Since he will not willingly give it up, you will have to use violence.   Will you kill for his property?   How is that in keeping with essentially any moral precept in the Bible?  Further, how is this any different from Lenin?

The Christian Distributist, though, doesn’t want to get his hands dirty.  He doesn’t want to actually kill and take.   He has a way out.  He will say “The State will do it.”  Here is the naivete in that statement (ignore the outright horror for the moment).   The only “State” with which you have to do at the moment is the American state.  It’s already taking and distributing wealth, yet you complain about current injustices.  But on what grounds do you complain, for is not this state the very agent through whom you posit change?

I know some will immediately respond, “The guild(s) can enact these changes.”   I hope you truly understand what you just said.  The Guild is not the state.  When the State steals from me, I have to let it.   Romans 13 says so.  If a private citizen steals from me (with the threat of violence), the Bible says I can open fire.  If a band of citizens together steal from me, I just buy more ammo.

I am not a raw free-market economist.  The Puritan tradition condemns usury (Larger Catechism, Q. 142).   As Doug Wilson has said many times, free markets demand free people, and true freedom is only found where the Spirit of the Lord is.

So, questions the Christian Socialist-Distributist must ask himself

  1. Will you commit yourself to the modern, anti-Christian American state as the agent of (re)distribution?
  2. How is this different from Lenin?
  3. If no to (1), do you propose  the Guild or some other band of private citizens (even more bizarre–do you propose The Church?   Kick that hornet’s nest while you are at it) to enact this change?
  4. These landowners will likely resist you, are you willing to use violence, even to the point of taking a life?  (Ponder this point for a moment.   When I got my permit to carry a concealed weapon, our instructor made it very clear that if you take the gun out of the holster, you have already committed yourself to killing the perceived threat.  It is hard to mentally prep yourself to take someone’s life.  Hopefully, the train of questioning will end at this point).
  5. How does this sound like Jesus?
  6. If yes to (4), you must realize these people will fight back.   Are you truly willing to die?

The Law as Social Pattern

I am indebted to Daniel R. for suggesting a number of differences between recent American Theonomists and the earlier Scottish theocrats.  One of the distinctives of American theonomy is a tendency towards a libertarian economic order.  In short, they see the government’s role as negative (e.g., we pay taxes so the government can kill evildoers, Rom. 13).  Supposedly, the Scottish theocrats (and Bucer) would see the government as positively prescribing righteousness.

 

What an urban vision should look like

I am an agrarian and have always been.  I think the modern city is unredeemable and itself seeks no redemption.   I have seen cities where the sewage is up to the ankles, bureaucrats control the money and jobs, and Soviet-style apartments dominate the landscapes.  When Reformed Constitutionalists and Federal Visionists challenge me on this, I simply point to the crime reports as counter-evidence.

There is one line of evidence, though, that gives one pause.   The Bible does seem to speak of the eschaton as a garden city.  And if we are to pray thy kingdom come (a premise not entirely admitted by Westminster Seminary), then it seems that an urban vision is somewhat normative.  Yet, I ask, what is the nature of this vision?  Is it simply the urban world we see today, where gangsters and drug lords shoot up the neighborhood?   Is it the vision, like in Chicago, where city cameras dominate the entire landscapes, literally ushering in Orwell’s vision? The Federal Visionist and evangelical cultural warrior has to answer “yes.”

But there is “another way.”   An urban vision can exist.  It can be beautiful, but only if it repudiates everything it sees today.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuRxYjdgviQ

(sorry, I couldn’t embed this video).

It is a vision that seeks beauty, poetry, and glory–not the market.

Liturgical Socialism

Socialism has a bad sound to it. Few conservatives like having their wealth confiscated (though they don’t seem to mind when Martin Luther King says precisely that; cf I May not Get there with you, p. 88). And they are right (if inconsistent in their principles) is rejecting that view (except when MLK says it).
But maybe there is a different way to read economics. The following is a summary of my “Theological Readings of Economics” from the now non-existent theogothic blog.
  1. They key is to disengage socialism from the state. State socialism is when the guys in Kevlar armor come to the door for your money (or think of it this way: a hippie Jesus followed by a bunch of voters, armed with a .44 and saying, “Go ahead taxpayer, make my day”). And I would agree with all of the criticisms of state socialist economics. 
  2. At the same time, though, I disagree with the Lockean reading of society. We are not just billiard balls bouncing off of each other (Leithart, Baptized Body, 8). This is terrible theology on so many levels (yet it is sacrosanct among neo-conservatives and Christian conservatives). (working on a constructive account integrating both Leithart and Dmitru Staniloae’s work; if members of the Trinity interpenetrate one another, and we are created imago dei, then in some mysterious way, we, too, interpenetrate one another. Indeed, if the church is the body of Christ, then are we not all connected?).
  3. We are connected…by baptism. Socialism is not just the forced taking of wealth. It is the connected socialization of society.
  4. I would agree with John Ruskin’s axiom, “Give the valuable to the valiant;” match virtue with wealth.

 

The harder-edged, uncomfortable C. S. Lewis

He’s most noted for Mere Christianity, the explication of the faith that all Christian traditions would espouse.    Most assume, therefore, that C. S. is a watered-down, lowest-common-denominator theologian.  A closer look, however, reveals something else, something more disturbing.  While Lewis wanted to see Christian traditions united, he also believed that one should seek Truth at all costs and settle for nothing less.  Apply this to the “denominational search,” and you will see that Lewis is arguing for the Truth of one particular Christian confession over another.  (Yes, while Lewis held to Anglicanism, an interesting case can be made that today he would have chose Orthodoxy.  The modern Anglican church has abandoned the historic faith; Lewis rejected predestinarianism, thus ruling out Reformed confessions;  Lewis was uncomfortable with Catholicism; and finally, much of his theology is already compatible with Orthodoxy).    In other words, Lewis would be banned at many CS Lewis message boards (I got kicked off one for saying things that a Jewess on the board did not like).

Agrarian Economics

Lewis rejected both state socialism and free market capitalism.  It is important to place Lewis in his Chestertonian context.   Therefore, I maintain that Lewis held to a form of distributist economics.  In That Hideous Strength one of the New World Order-type bad guys remarks that one of their colleagues had gone off the deep end and was committed to distributism.  In Mere Christianity (pages 81-82) Lewis rejects interest-based capitalism (which essentially destroys all modern economics, statist or free-market).  In The Great Divorce Lewis notes that the truest form of love rejects the division between meum and teum; individual rights, when carried to its logical conclusion, is simply hell.  (By the way, this is simply Augustine.  Take it up with him).

But does this make Lewis an agrarian?  Not really, but it does make him a distributist, and when applied to a rural context, it supports agrarianism.  I realize that distributism and agrarianism are not synonymous, but they are close enough.

Fighting the New World Order

In That Hideous Strength Dr Ransom admits that they might have to fight off the bad guys with pistol fire, if necessary.  Just reflect on that statement for a while.   How often does that talk get quoted in Lifeway bulletins?

Monarchy

“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 King itself 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.

Lewis writes that his Narnia stories implicitly make people royalists for a while.  I mean, how often do you read of a charming fairy tale whose hero is a democratically-elected leader living in the hustle and frustration of an urban apartment?  No, despite people’s (usually inadequately thought through) commitment to democracy, these people still feel a powerful monarchist pull on their soul when they read Lewis, Tolkien, and fairy tales in general.

Conclusion

CS Lewis in no way should be considered a soft, evangelical theologian, but a hard-edged thinker whose thought lends towards distributism, Orthodoxy, and monarchy.

CS Lewis on Christian Economics

There is one bit of advice given to us by the ancient heathen Greeks, and by the Jews of the Old Testament (sort of–JBA), and by the great Christian thinkers of the Middle Ages, which the modern economic system has completely disobeyed.  All these people told us not to lend money at interest:  and lending money at interest–what we call investment–is the basis of our whole system…

The three great civilizations had agreed (or so it seems at first sight) on condemning the very thing on which we have based our whole life

Mere Christianity, 81-82