I have to wonder: could iconic art reinvigorate a culture? I ask my Protestant friends: if you take away the bowing down to images and the making of hypostases of the Logos outside of the hypostasis of the Logos, what exactly is the problem with icons? Nothing really. Nothing that wouldn’t apply to art in general. Orthodox iconography is beautiful. It is infinitely superior to Roman Catholic art. Indeed, my favorite icon is of the Norwegian king, Olav Ogre-Bane.
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).
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.
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.
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.
I am on my second reading of Oliver O’Donovan’s The Desire of the Nations. It is very hard but extremely worthwhile. I have found David Field’s outline on this book extremely helpful.
The Revelation of God’s Kingship (36-41)
Isaiah 33:22: Yhwh is our king; Yhwh is our judge; Yhwh is our lawgiver. He will save us.” Ideas are connected. Kingship implies judgment, law-giving, and salvation.
The early Hebrews saw this element in the Psalms. While it included salvation from sin, the term is often used to show God’s victories of his people’s enemies. What is the purpose of these victories? (Ps. 13:5; 85:7). They show God’s hesed, his enduring commitment to those in his covenant. Hesed often stands in parallel to the Hebrew word for faithfulness (Psalm 98.3).
These victories also show God’s tsedeq, righteousness. In the Psalms God’s righteousness is a public thing. When he shows his right hand and holy arm, the nations will know (98.2). This is an important point in later Israelite history. You are an Israelite living in Babylon. While you are the chosen people of God, you have been publicly shamed by a pagan power (and presumably, so has your God). Therefore, when God acts to show his righteousness, it must be public: Is. 45.5; 46.13;51.5-8;56.1;61.10; 62.1).
The Hebrew root words relating to God’s righteousness often appear in connection with his shpt, judgment. This illustrates the problem with ancient Israel’s existence. They were God’s chosen people yet they often worshipped idols. If it is true that God vindicates his name among the pagans because he is a just God, how much more true will he vindicate his name among his people?
What do we mean by the words “judgment” and “justice?” The Hebrew word for “judgment” is mishpat. When it is used in the Bible it is seen as a judicial performance. When true “judgment” is present it is not a state of affairs but an activity that is carried out. The prophet Amos calls for mishpat to roll on like a river. Isaiah says that the citizens of Jerusalem should seek mishpat by giving judgment in the cause of the fatherless and widow (1:17). Isaiah even goes on to say that Zion will even be redeemed by mishpat (1:26ff).
The judgments of Yahweh have lasting validity because all of his acts have lasting validity. This leads into what the Israelites believed about…
If you look at the Old Testament law code, it is strange. But maybe it shouldn’t be. For us Westerners there is a sharp distinction between history and law. This was not so for the Hebrew. For Israel “history” is the telling of God’s acts to future generations. Law was the telling of his judgments (mishpatim). Psalm 119 is a case in point. There are several terms of importance. Testimony and decree. Interestingly enough, other Psalmists use the words in connection with a word we have just seen: judgment. See Psalm 81:4-5.
When the kingdom of Judah had its reforming moments, it is evident that “testimony” and “law” were in the foreground. 2 Kgs 22:8-13. Jer. 26:1ff. In both cases we see that “law” is simply more than a “code.” It is attesting that God will live out his judgments in Israel’s history. Look at how Psalm 96:10 unfolds: the nations are to be told that Yhwh is king, that he established the world on firm foundations, and that he will judge the peoples with equity.
Without the consciousness of something possessed and handed on, there could never be a political theology, since it could never be clear how the judgments of God could give order and sustain a community (48ff). In other words, something needs to be possessed and handed down. This traditional possession was not always identified with “The Law.” Originally, the existence of Israel was mediated through the Land. Possessing the land was a matter of observing the order of life which was established by Yahweh’s judgments (Psalm 37:29ff).
Land = material cause of Yahweh’s Kingly Rule
judgments = formal cause of Yahweh’s Kingly Rule
Victories = efficient cause of Yahweh’s Kingly Rule
Mediators of Yahweh’s Rule
Yahweh’s authority is image-less, like Yahweh himself. However, Yahweh is immediately present in conquest, judgment, and law. Israel still had a problem in its history: it could never consolidate. It had land, judgment, and victories (though never absolutely), but it had no stable means of passing it down. Even acknowledging the sacred writer’s criticism of monarchy (1 Sam. 8), it must be acknowledged that monarchy exercised a stabilizing influence when contrasted with the Judges period. Most importantly, monarchy allowed the passing down of the tradition (Land, Judgments, Victories).
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
Hegel is the most influential philosopher who has never been read. Granted, he’s not easy to read. Philosophy of Right may have been the hardest book I have ever read. I get so annoyed when I hear right-wing politicos talk about the “Hegelian dialectic.” Usually they mean something like the following: The US Government creates a problem and then applies a pre-planned solution which generates the desired political outcome. Yes, this is exactly what the government does. The problem, though, is that Hegel never said anything like this. He never said, and there is a book written on exactly this point, we should start with a Thesis and then Bring in an Antithesis so we can get a synthesis. What he said, to the rare degree even used those three terms(!), is that reality itself is dialectical and every thesis we come across contains within itself its negation.
Of course, I don’t think I believe that and there are huge problems with saying reality is dialectical, but this should be enough to rebut the idea that Hegel is the occultic father of modern New World Order conspiracies. Factually speaking, Hegel was a conservative monarchist. Fr Matt Johnson claims that Hegel specifically condemned the Illuminati, though I haven’t been able to substantiate that claim (it isn’t in Philosophy of History or Philosophy of Right).
I don’t think I am going to be a Hegelian again, though. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones admitted he felt a satanic presence in his room one day, I, too, felt a dark presence when I was reading the neo-Hegelian atheist Slavoj Zizek.
(My Eastern Orthodox friends should like this, since most convertskii are hard-core monarchists). I’ll make clear what I mean by monarchism:
- I know there are difficulties in a monarchical government.
- I am not advocating America become a monarchy.
I’ve been a monarchist in the sense that it functions as an epistemological critique of modern secular democracy (and “secular” can include conservatives). I think the current American order is in a dialectics from which it cannot escape. I do not think grass-roots movements will work on a large scale. The godly kings and revivals in the Old Testament were usually top-down, not bottom-up. Monarchism is an epistemological critique in the sense that, acknowledging its own faults and difficulties, it can stand outside the current American system and offer insight which is impossible from within the “voting dialectic.”
What does this have to do with Vision Forum? Not a whole lot, admittedly. I was remembering old debates on whether it was a sin to vote for anyone besides Peroutka. Attacking the Republican party is easy and fun and something we should all do. But there are also problems in third-party candidates which their advocates will never see.
PS: Samuel Rutherford acknowledged the validity of monarchy in Lex, Rex.
So why should we care? The English monarchy doesn’t do anything and we are Americans. I think the following reasons are worth noting:
- For once someone wasn’t talking about Trayvon and how evil white people are.
- I would rather see the news talking about monarchies than the Kardashians (go find the famous CS Lewis quote to this effect).
- For all of its values, a republican government isn’t self-evidently the best. Monarchy can function as an epistemological critique on this decline of the American order.
- As someone who believes in the Solemn League & Covenant, even if I cannot approve of the Royal family’s religious views, I feel politically connected to them, even if in a negative ay.
My friend Daniel Ritchie has offered his own version of retractare in the past. I want to do mine. These are in no particular order.
The Theonomy People
I’ve listed problems with theonomy before. They are to be commended for influencing Reformed scholars to go back to careful study of the Old Testament (Poythress said he wouldn’t have written his work if it weren’t for Rushdoony). They are to be commended for their critique of absolute statism, but there are problems. The post-theonomy (for lack of a better word, this would be the third generation theonomists) are probably guilty of violating the 9th commandment. Their unceasing attacks on men like Michael Horton and others at Westminster Seminary California are uncalled for. I disagree with Horton and Co.’s social ethic, but the man is a minister in Christ’s church and Horton has probably done as much as anybody in spreading the Reformed faith. I admit; it’s sometimes funny to watch D.G. Hart get riled up, but the falsely so-called “R2K” guys have majored on the majors: The doctrine of worship and the church. Modern American Theonomy, by contrast, has largely failed in this area.
- As for my own position, I believe the Old Testament law can be used today when necessary.
- This does not preclude natural law, but presupposes it (more below)
- Theonomy is not the position of the Reformers; natural law is. Yes, Bucer used the Mosaic judicials, but only because he saw them as part of his natural law heritage. We should do likewise.
- This is where I am different from most natural law amillennarians: I do not believe common grace is sufficient as an ethical category for government. It merely describes how unbelievers are not as bad as they could be. I remain unconvinced that it has ethical content.
I’ve gone back and forth on Van Til for some time now. I think when it comes to Roman Catholicism and explaining what Reformed theology is, Van Til is as fine as anybody. His lectures on “chain-of-being” theology are quite good. His apologetic method, though, is completely indefensible. I think Reformed people are better served by a mix of Reformed scholasticism and Common Sense Realism.
- As for my own position, I think the TAG method is an open-door to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. It explicitly attacks the foundations of knowledge and inadvertently relativises truth-claims. No longer having a clear revelation from God, one has Tradition (as interpreted by a certain community).
- As for a positive apologetic, I don’t really care. I think Anselm is interesting and his ontological argument has some subordinate value.
This is a difficult one. I think the Reformers (and quite frankly, the entire church) were wise never to use the “millennial” terms in explaining what they believe. More often than not, modern Reformed eschatological questions are more political than anything else. Saying, “I am postmil” or “common grace amil” implies more than the timing of Christ’s return.
- As for my own position, I am certainly a Reformed historicist. This is the Reformed position.
- I appreciate a lot of what Kim Riddlebarger has to say on Covenant and New Testament eschatology. I’ve always liked Vos and Ridderbos.
- Historic premillennialism, while having a respectful pedigree, simply entails too many difficulties. Further, I have found that the deeper I dig into historic premillennialism, the harder it is to be Reformed.
- I think it is more important to be clear on eschatological hermeneutics than on identifying a millennial position.
For around five years I’ve been a fairly staunch defender of limited monarchy. That’s still the case. My only difference now is that I do not see the Bible requiring it (or any specific mode of government). Each style of government has its strengths and weaknesses.
- Monarchists (like myself) need to admit that 1 Samuel 8 does place some restrictive parameters on the glory of monarchy.
- Republicans (small “r”) need to admit that the Torah did provide (and I think expected) a monarchy. If that’s not the case, then why is Deuteronomy 17 in the Bible? Nelson Kloosterman has made a fairly convincing case that there existed a possibility that Israel could have had a king and not sinned in asking so. Here is how I think it would have worked: the end of the book of Judges essentially begs for a monarchy. Deuteronomy 17 had already provided for a shepherd-king (the Christological overtones are deliberate). Had Israel wanted a shepherd to guide them, I believe God would have praised their request. Further, biblical eschatology moves in the direction of monarchy, not republicanism.
- I am an adherent of an Althusian-style natural law theory. The problem many theonomists had was that their critics (and the theonomists themselves) had said, “Natural law OR God’s law.” But this is where theonomists and their critics were wrong. Natural law is God’s law, provided natural law is defined as creation ordinances. The problem here is the inferences people drew from that phrase. I won’t go into that now. More to the point, Reformed natural law theorists could gladly appeal (and did!) to the Mosaic judicials. Modern Calvinism’s embarrassment over Moses doesn’t help. God’s law is morally just and should be consulted. Theonomists, by contrast, never provided satisfactory accounts of the New Testament’s modification of the Mosaic law.
- I have no problem with the two kingdoms doctrine, provided the difference between the two kingdoms is in administration, not ethical norms.
I used to be a big defender of the idea of monarchy as the best (of a selection of admittedly bad) form of government. I was aware of the dangers of monarchy, but I reasoned that they weren’t as bad as the abuses of democracy, and I think that is still true today. Several things have come up that made me nuance my views:
- I am a Celtic-Anglo-Saxon, and so I draw from that heritage. After Elizabeth Tudor English kings have been terrible. Even today I don’t see a monarch on American soil, given our cultural heritage.
- Instead of opting for a “Hebrew Theocratic Republic” ala some old-school recons, I go with Calvin: an aristocracy might be better. Aristocracies allow the “better” of society to rule (and if they are incompetent they won’t survive that den of vipers known as politics) and curbs the excesses of the illiterate mob.
- Until Richard Cameron, even the most theocratic presbyterians allowed for monarchy as a legitimate (if not always the best) form of government. In fact, the Solemn League and Covenant seems to presuppose the idea of a king.
- Despite God’s warnings against kings in 1 Sam 8, the Old Testament allows for (and even normatizes) both types of government.