Earthy-ing the Imago Dei

I read Van Til, Dooyeweerd, and Rushdoony for reasons most other people don’t read them.  I couldn’t care less about specific apologetic methodologies.  Their true genius is in the fact that they–more than anyone else–allowed the Creator-creature distinction to inform their understanding of creation and imago Dei.

Any discussion of the imago-dei is better served, not by speculating on essences and accidents, but on man’s role as priest-king-prophet in creation and New Creation.  We must firmly resist any scheme that says the higher part of man is the soul while the lower part is the body (John of Damascus and Aquinas say exactly that).

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!

 

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.

On calling no man “Teacher”

We like to point out to Roman Catholics that Jesus says call no man “father.”  We think that’s a good criticism of their praxis (and it is).   But I’ve seen something even more troubling:   this problem is infinitely worse in the subcultures of American evangelicalism.   We rally behind our favorite teachers and allow no criticism, not even dissent, of them.  Roman Catholics and EO really don’t have that problem.  Here is how a discussion goes.   Some of us will say that many aspects of Christian Reconstruction went off the rails and Rushdoony was wrong on a number of issues (denying the 3-fold distinction of the law, food laws, 2nd Commandment, Paedocommunion, denying the covenant of works, separating himself from the church for 8 years, etc).  Notice we didn’t say anything about his character.  I like Rushdoony, actually.  I think he is a fine teacher and his series on  So here is the conversation:

Recon1:  Show from Scripture where Rushdoony is wrong?

Me:  He held to the ongoing food laws.

Recon1:  Like I said, show one verse where he is wrong on the food laws.

Me:  Seriously?  (Eventually I quote 1 Timothy 4)

And this train wreck went on for about 100 more posts.  Obviously, you can see what’s going on here.   No criticism of “our venerated teacher” is allowed.

And I am grateful that God brought me out of this.  I used to be the world’s worst.  I used to rally behind different teachers.  I don’t want to sound overly pious, but I think I now understand what Jesus meant by not calling any man teacher.  I have a lot of sermons and lectures on my iPod, but it’ so scrambled I often don’t know who is saying what.

Some worldview consequences coming from the Patriarchy scandal

The comments immediately following this one, including the one related to Young Earth Creationist Kent Hovind, are worth reading from a legal perspective.   Backlash happens in anything.    Here are some of my predictions (not prophecies, notwithstanding my views on spiritual gifts!  LOL).   This won’t affect older theology students and pastors, but it will affect younger ones.  I have in mind those students are just beginning to explore the mature Evangelical faith in a scholarly manner.

  • All other things being equal, I expect a rise in conservative, Old-Earth creationism.  This will be a solid response to Peter Enns and a mature counterbalance to some of the extreme statements made by VF (and YEC is a huge part of their ministry).  I remember listening to a Doug Phillips lecture and he told anecdotal stories of people who lost their faith in college because the (conservative) Bible professor held to an Old Earth position.  I thought that was probably the silliest thing I ever heard.
  • A movement away from presuppositionalism.  There are good presuppositionalists like Scot Oliphant.  They are the Westminster types. I personally do not hold those views, but I respect them.  They are not the same “wavelength” as Vision Forum.  Sadly, Vision Forum, and I can say this from personal experience, was remarkably talented at communicating presuppositionalism.  I am sad to see Greg Bahnsen’s name tarnished with this (and for the record, Bahnsen voted for Bush I in the 1990s and not Howard Phillips.  That led to a break between him and Rushdoony).
  • There will be a massive PR spin on “complementarianism.”  The pendulum is going to swing back to Wayne Grudem.  Doug Wilson might scoff at such “squeamish” terms (and I Plan to do a response to his calling the victim in the VF scandal “Foxy Bubbles” and trying to give DP a free pass.  I’ve seen a number of “worldview wonks” do the same thing).  As a marketing term, “Patriarchy” is down for the count.
  • Apropos above point, I think we are going to see a muting of the “worldview talk.”  I grant that worldviews are inescapable to a degree, but so is breathing.  But nobody talks about how important it is to breathe.
  • Will there be healthy Christian alternatives to nouthetic counseling?   I don’t agree with Freud and “psychobabble” as such, but I can give several clear-cut arguments why nouthetic models are flawed.   Depression doesn’t have to be related to sin.   It can be something as simple as “lack of sleep.”  The Soviet KGB knew this for decades (which is why they would raid homes at 3 A.M., the time where the body’s circadian rhythm was lowest.   When the CIA created assassin-clones in its MK-ULTRA program, aside from the pornography, prostitution, and mind-altering drugs used on the victim, sleep deprivation was essential the process.  All of this goes to falsify the premise of nouthetic counseling at its most basic).

Is this the final breath of Christian Reconstruction?

I am deliberately late to the Doug Phillips debacle.  My interest is from another angle:  for better or worse, the Phillips axis (Vision Forum, Morecraft, and to a lesser extent American Vision) represented the last coherent front for Christian Reconstruction (which is not the same thing as theonomy).  When Bahnsen and Rushdoony passed from the scene, there really wasn’t any scholarly impetus.  Yes, there was Gentry, but has he published in the last six years (and I think I know why he hasn’t)?  Has Gary Demar written on something besides partial preterism and America’s Christian heritage?

Someone will say, “Yeah, well what have you written?”  Nothing yet.  I do have a book on Eastern Orthodoxy in the works.  I also plan to write one on Covenantal Premillennialism.  I have an essay on premillennial monarchy in outline form.

The Christian Reconstruction world has been marked by scandals but has proven fairly resilient, mostly due to competent scholars and debaters. (This is less known, but there was another CR leader who while not committing adultery, pressed the envelope in that direction and was disciplined by his presbytery.  This happened while I was in seminary).  Vision Forum, for one, was highly successful in marketing.   I mean honestly, who wouldn’t want to buy half of those products?  I still want one of those crossbows!  But in light of recent scandals, VF has shut down.  With the exception of American Vision, Christian Reconstruction has no more outlets and it won’t make a comeback.   VF’s scandals are far beyond the founder flirting with a young nanny. Evidence is coming up of financial fraud.  Now I don’t particularly cry too hard that the IRS got stiffed.   Couldn’t have happened to a better group of people, but these kind of repercussions can be devastating.  I am glad I cut loose of CR six years ago.

It’s not so much that young thinkers don’t want to be associated with “immoral” scandals (and the details are fuzzy, beyond the “not knowing in a biblical sense” admission).   That’s bad enough but sadly, fairly common.   If the financial allegations are true, then legal issues arise and it becomes plutonium.  Young Van Tillians are simply going to go to Westminster Seminary.  Theonomy’s day is over.  While the Obama administration is seeming to vindicate everything Gary North has said, it appears to be too little too late.

Did the Church Fathers teach theonomy?

These kind of questions give Eastern Orthodox apologists all the ammo they need against Calvinists.   The problem with the post-Bahnsenian theonomists is that they will scour church history for examples of “theonomy.”  Rushdoony really wasn’t as bad on this point as people will think (more later).  In order to prove church history is on their side, Young Turk theonomists will read church history sources and look for guys teaching theonomy.  The question then becomes, “What does theonomy mean?”  Does it mean some form of God-oriented social order which takes account of the law of God?  If so, then most everybody in church history is a theonomist.  It’s hard to see why Bahnsen even got in trouble.  Heck, RTS-Jackson even believes that (kind of).

That’s cheating, though.  Joseph Farrell has pointed out that everyone, even the pagans, believed in theo-krasia.  But theonomists will quickly rebut, “We see church fathers employing the judicial laws as still valid.”   Technically, that’s true.   They did employ some judicial laws.  My question is “Did they adopt the Bahnsenian hermeneutics that the judicial law in exhaustive detail is binding”?  The answer is clearly no.  Eastern fathers have a theoretical antinomian streak (2nd Commandment, anyone?  footnote1).  True, we do see some fathers like Gregory the Great arguing for the Sabbath, but that’s unremarkable on anyone’s gloss.

The problem is that Church Fathers were more interested in Christology, Trinity, and monasticism than they were in the social functions of the law of God.  To read otherwise is to commit the worst of anachronistic fallacies.

Footnote 1:  There actually might be more of a parallel.   Theonomists for the most part reject the practical applications of the 2nd Commandment, too!