Primer on Knoxian Public Theology

A Primer on a Knoxian Public Theology

 These excerpts are taken from Odonovan’s From Irenaeus to Grotius, pp.686ff. I will take some of John Knox’s quotes and offer explanatory comments when necessary.

 Odonovan introduces: “Repeatedly Knox discerns God’s present command, violation, and punishgment in God’s historical dealings with Israel, reading the Old Testament as a legal casebook, a catalogue of juridical precedents (Kyle, 1984, 44, 48), with two striking results. The first result is the binding authority for all Christian commonwealths of the Mosaic judicial, requiring the capital punishment of all idolaters—a future English Puritan theme. The second is the scrutability of God’s providence (Odonovan, 686-687).

 Knox: “If any think that the punishment of idolaters be contrary to the practice of the apostles who, finding the gentiles to be in idolatry, did call them to repentence, requiring no punishment, let the sam man recall that the gentiles before the preaching of Christ lived, as the apostle speaketh, without God in the world, drowned in idolatry, according to the blindness and ignorance in which then they were holden as a profane nation…(“Apellation of John Knox,” qtd in O’Donovan, 692)

 Implications: Knox was already aware of the later Presbyterian critique of theocratic Presbyterianism: we don’t see the apostles doing x. There are several lines of response:

  • The above is a fallacious argument from silence

  • Switch out idolatry with any other sin that has criminal sanctions and live with the consequences (we don’t see the apostles punishing sodomy, usury, bestiality. Kidnapping, rape, etc. Why stop with idolatry?)

John Knox on the punishment of idolatry

Courtesy of D. Ritchie.

If by God’s Scriptures these precedents be so plain, that reasonably no man can deny any point thereof, then have I good hope, that ye will admit it to be necessary, that you avoid idolatry, if the league betwixt God and you shall be kept sure.  And, first, it is to be observed, that God’s justice being infinite in matters of religion, requireth like obedience of all those that be within this league at all times, that he requireth of every one nation or particular man in any one age.  For all that be within this league are one body, as Moses doth witness reckoning men, women, children, servants, princes, priests, officers, and strangers, within the covenant of the Lord (Deut. 29).  Then, what God requireth of one (as touching this league), he requireth of all, for his justice is immutable; and what he condemneth in any one, that he must condemn in others, for he is righteous without partiality.

John Knox, ‘Letter to the faithful in England’ in R. S. Candlish (ed.), Select practical writings of John Knox (1845; Edinburgh, 2011), pp 46-7.

 John Knox on Deuteronomy 13 and the difference between persecution and prosecution

We say, the man is not persecuted for his conscience, that, declining from God, blaspheming his Majestie, and contemning his religion, obstinately defendeth erroneous and false doctrine. This man, I say, lawfully convicted, if he suffer the death pronounced by a lawful Magistrate, is not persecuted, (as in the name of Servetus ye furiously complain,) but he suffereth punishment according to God’s commandment, pronounced in Deuteronomie, the xiii. chapter.

John Knox, An answer to the cavillations of an adversary respecting the doctrine of predestination (1560) repr. in The works of John Knox, ed. David Laing (6 vols, Edinburgh, 1856), v, 231.

 John Knox on the modern applicability of the curses of the covenant

How the Lord threatened plague after plague, and ever the last to be the sorest, till finally he will consume realms and nations if they repent not, read chapter 26 of Leviticus, which chapter oft I have willed you to mark, as yet I do unfeignedly.  And think not that it appertaineth to the Jews only.  No, brethren; the prophets are the interpreters of the law, and they make the plagues of God common to all offenders, the punishment ever beginning at the house-hold of God. […]

John Knox, ‘Letter to the faithful in England’ in R. S. Candlish (ed.), Select practical writings of John Knox (1845; Edinburgh, 2011), pp 31-2.

 THE KING MUST RULE BY GOD’S WORD

 Kings then have not absolute power to do in their regiment what pleaseth them; but their power is limited by God’s Word.  So that if they strike where God commandeth not, they are but murderers; and if, they spare, where God commandeth to strike, they and their throne are criminal, and guilty of the wickedness that aboundeth upon the face of the earth for lack of punishment.  Oh, if kings and princes would consider what account shall be craved of them, as well of their ignorance and misknowledge of God’s will, as for the neglecting of their office!

John Knox, ‘A sermon preached by John Knox, minister of Christ Jesus, in the church of Edinburgh, upon Sunday, August 19, 1565, for the which he has forbidden to preach for a season’ in R. S. Candlish (ed.), Select practical writings of John Knox (1845; Edinburgh, 2011), pp 212-14.

 JOSIAH’S REFORMATION A MODEL FOR TODAY

 Of which histories it is evident that the reformation of religion in all points, together with the punishment of false teachers, doth appertain to the power of the civil magistrate.  For what God required of them, His justice must require of others having the like charge and authority; what He did approve in them, He cannot but approve in all others who with like zeal and sincerity do enterprise to purge the Lord’s temple and sanctuary.  What God required to them, it is before declared, to wit, that most diligently they should observe His law, statutes and ceremonies. John Knox, The appellation of John Knox from the cruel and most injust sentence pronounced against him by the false bishops and clergy of Scotland, with his supplication and exhortation to the nobility, estates and commonality of the same realm (Geneva, 1558) in idem, On rebellion, ed. R. A. Mason (Cambridge, 1994), pp 90-1.

 John Knox on the civil magistrate’s duty to ensure that heretics are punished and the people instructed

[…] God requireth of you to provide that your subjects be rightly instructed in His true religion and that the same by you be reformed whensoever abuses do creep in by malice of Satan and negligence of men; and last, that ye are bound to remove from honour and to punish with death (if the crime so require) such as deceive the people of defraud them of that food of their souls, I mean God’s lively Word.

John Knox, The appellation of John Knox from the cruel and most injust sentence pronounced against him by the false bishops and clergy of Scotland, with his supplication and exhortation to the nobility, estates and commonality of the same realm (Geneva, 1558) in idem, On rebellion, ed. R. A. Mason (Cambridge, 1994), p. 84.

 John Knox on the execution of Servetus and Leviticus 24

But if the law of God be diligently searched, this doubt shall easily be resolved.  For it will witness that no less ought the murderer, the blasphemer, and such other, to suffer the death, then that the meek and the fearer of God should be defended.  And also, that such as maintain and defend the one, are no less criminal before God then those that oppress the others. […] Now to you justifiers of Servetus: Servetus was an abominable blasphemer against God; and you are justifiers of Servetus: therefore ye are blasphemers before God, like abominable as he was. […] Ye will not easily admit that Servetus be convicted of blasphemy; for if he be, ye must be compelled to confess (except that ye will refuse God) that the sentence of death executed against him was not cruelty; neither yet that the judges who justly pronounced that sentence were murderers nor persecutors; but that this death was the execution of God’s judgement, and they the true faithful servants of God, who, when no other remedy was found, did take away iniquity from amongst them.  That God hath appointed death by his law, without mercy, to be executed upon the blasphemers, is evident by that which is written, Leviticus 24.

John Knox, An answer to the cavillations of an adversary respecting the doctrine of predestination (1560) repr. in The works of John Knox, ed. David Laing (6 vols, Edinburgh, 1856), v, 223-4.

 THE OLD TESTAMENT AND THE MODERN MAGISTRATE

 For it is a thing more certain that whatsoever God required of the civil magistrate in Israel or Judah concerning the observation of true religion during the time of the Law, the same doth he require of lawful magistrates professing Christ Jesus in the time of the Gospel, as the Holy Ghost hath taught us by the mouth of David, saying (Psalm 2): ‘Be learned, you that judge the earth, kiss the Son, lest that the Lord wax angry and that ye perish from the way.’  This admonition did not extend to the judges under the Law only, but doth also include such as be promoted to honours in the time of the Gospel, when Christ Jesus doth reign and fight in His spiritual kingdom, whose enemies in that Psalm be most sharply taxed, their fury expressed and vanity mocked.  And then are kings and judges, who think themselves free from all law and obedience, commanded to repent their former blind rage, and judges are charged to be learned.  And last are all commanded to serve the Eternal in fear, to rejoice before Him in trembling, to kiss the Son, that is, to give unto Him most humble obedience.  Whereof it is evident that the rulers, magistrates and judges now in Christ’s kingdom are no less bound to obedience unto God than were those under the Law.

John Knox, The appellation of John Knox from the cruel and most injust sentence pronounced against him by the false bishops and clergy of Scotland, with his supplication and exhortation to the nobility, estates and commonality of the same realm (Geneva, 1558) in idem, On rebellion, ed. R. A. Mason (Cambridge, 1994), pp 91-2.

 

Repost: John Knox and Modern Covenant Sanctions

From D. Ritchie’s blog:

John Knox on the modern applicability of the curses of the covenant

How the Lord threatened plague after plague, and ever the last to be the sorest, till finally he will consume realms and nations if they repent not, read chapter 26 of Leviticus, which chapter oft I have willed you to mark, as yet I do unfeignedly.  And think not that it appertaineth to the Jews only.  No, brethren; the prophets are the interpreters of the law, and they make the plagues of God common to all offenders, the punishment ever beginning at the house-hold of God. […]

The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, after they had proclaimed plagues to fall upon the people of Israel, and upon the house of Judah, prophesy particularly against certain nations and cities, nor only adjacent in circuit about Jerusalem, but also against such as were far distant; as against Moab, Ammon, Palestine, Egypt, Tyre, Damascus, and Babylon (Isa. 13; 15; 17; 18; 19; 20; 23; Jer. 59; 51; Ezek. 25; 26; 27).  And in conclusion, general prophecies are spoken against all inobedient and sinful nations, as in chapter 24 of Isaiah plainly appeareth; as also, the Lord commanding Jeremiah to give the cup of his wrath to all nations, one after another; who should drink of the same, although they refused it of his hand (Jer. 25): that is, albeit they would not believe the voice of the prophet, yet should they not escape the plagues that he spoke: ‘For every nation like unto this, shall I punish, saith the Lord of Hosts’ (Jer. 5).  With the same agreeth Amos, saying, ‘The eyes of the Lord are upon every sinful nation, to root it out of the earth’ (Amos 9).  These, and many more places, evidently prove, that the plagues spoken of in the law of God, appertain to every rebellious people, be they Jew or be they Gentile, Christians in title, or Turks in profession.  And the ground of the prophets was the same, which before I have rehearsed for my assurances that England shall be plagued; which is, God’s immutable and inviolable justice, that cannot spare in one realm and nation, those offences that most severely he hath punished in another: for so were he unequal, and to make differences, as touching execution of his just judgments betwixt person and person; which is most contrarious to the integrity of his justice.

John Knox, ‘Letter to the faithful in England’ in R. S. Candlish (ed.), Select practical writings of John Knox (1845; Edinburgh, 2011), pp 31-2.

Van Ruler: Meaning of the Mosaic Law for Today

For example, it has quite recently again been noted (by Prof. Dr. A.A. Van Ruler of the Netherlands) that “the whole of existence proceeds from the Torah (or the Pentateuch): marriage, sexuality, property, law, punishment, government, etc. If the life of the individual and of society is to be arranged in accordance with theknowledge of the Lord and His salvation and His Law, we will have to apply the Mosaic Law and to impose it upon the nations of the earth… The whole Torah returns

in our Christian existence; but it returns in a divine way (through the incarnation of God the Son)… Therefore we will have to refrain from the narrowness and the rigidity of the sect, which knows only of the continuity (but not of the development of the Torah in New Testament times)… We have to stand amid history and to remain opento every new historical situation… We must act according to the times and opportunities… For example…, in the Mosaic Law the death penalty applies even to homosexuality. We cannot do this right now. Our society does not tolerate that divine holiness! But we may not say that we are too civilized to do this. We would do better to lament about the level of unholiness of our own societyeven as we take the weakness of our times into account!”
A.A. Van Ruler:The Meaning of the Mosaic Law, 1947, in Theological Works(Nijkerk, Netherlands: Callenbach), 1969, Vol. I, p. 143 qtd in F. N. Lee, Christocracy, p. 10.
I still have several things to add to my Theonomy Files, but I don’t have time and I will not be able to next week, so I thought this would suffice.

A short thesis on theonomy

I’ve found Rev. Brian Schwertely’s sermons on theonomy helpful for me.  I should like to clarify what I believe on theonomy:

1.  I do not hold to the Bahnsenian thesis ala Matthew 5:17.   Better stated, I don’t feel bound to defend it.  Truth be told, I really doubt Poythress and the Biblical-Theology Klineans were able to deal with it in such a way that didn’t gut the Reformed ethic of any real meaning; that said, I don’t debate that particular passage because I don’t think my own position turns on it.

2. Specifically, I hold that the moral principle within the judicial case law is binding, but not necessarily the case law itself.  I think this is what “general equity” of WCF 19.4 really means.   While Bahnsen clearly demonstrated that Westminster Seminary had no clue what “general equity” means, I am not entirely convinced that Theonomists were able to say that 1) the judicial law is binding in exhaustive detail but 2) not this particular law (e.g., an unbetrothed virgin has to marry her seducer).

3.  Per #2, this formulation allows us to avoid the worst aspects of Christian Reconstruction, avoid being tied down in endless debates over exegeting Matthew 5:17 (or even worse, any kind of Klinean spin-off), and interpret the Scottish divines in a faithful way that allows a distinct theocratic witness.

A Gillespian dialogue (repost)

I suppose I probably could have spared myself a lot of grief in seminary by not taking the theonomy route.  I mean, I’m not a theonomist now, so it wouldn’t have mattered right?  Well, it’s not so simple.   Let’s consider:

  1. Under no circumstances would I have countenanced any political movement that did not kiss the feet of King Jesus.  Even so, there remain alternatives to theonomy.
  2. I even quoted published critics of theonomy (Poythress) to professors and they still said it was unacceptable.

On the other hand, had I grounded my political ethic solely in Rutherford, Gillespie, and the covenanters, my argument–or at least my rhetorical presentation of it–would have been indestructible.  The conversation would have gone something like this:

Covenanter:  Professor/teaching assistant, is it acceptable to employ Old Testament laws in constructing a political ethic for today?

Professor/teaching assistant:  No, for theonomy is wrong/marxist/homosexual/terrorist*/we fired Bahnsen for that.

Covenanter:  Did I say anything about theonomy?

Professor/teaching assistant:  No, but you mentioned Old Testament laws and that’s theonomic.

Covenanter:  I am glad to see you admit that much of the Bible teaches theonomy, but that is not what I was advocating.  Have you read Rutherford?

Professor/teaching assistant:  No.

Covenanter:  Rutherford based much of his argument on the validity of Old Testament ethical norms for today.

Professor/teaching assistant:  Well, the Reformed faith has come a long way since then.

Covenanter: But Professor, Lex, Rex was specifically written in the context of forging a distinctively Presbyterian identity, especially if you combine his argument with Gillespie’s, both of which are to be read against the background of the National Covenant of Scotland and the Solemn League and Covenants, which they and their posterity believed to be binding on future Anglo generations.

Professor/teaching assistant:  But we live in a democracy.  You can’t just expect everyone to agree with those rules.  That’s a theocracy!

Covenanter: I am glad to see you concede the theocratic roots of Presbyterianism.  I agree that such expectations are unrealistic for current America.  That’s quite irrelevant, though.   What God commands is often not contingent on what’s possible.  Isn’t that the point of Calvinistic evangelism?

Professor/teaching assistant:  So, you just want to go kill everyone that disagrees with you?

Covenanter:  No, don’t be silly.  My point is that for us to be consistent with our Presbyterian identity, we must come to grips with the ecclesiastical and political issues of those Covenants.   If that means we need to abandon key modern American ideas and structures like the 1st Amendment (which has already been repealed in the Patriot Act), American Idol, and MTV, then so be it.

Professor/teaching assistant:  Why do you hate America?

Covenanter:  I don’t hate America.   I want what’s best for America.

Professor/teaching assistant: But many aren’t Christians.  Doesn’t this mean they will be executed for worshiping false gods?

Covenanter:  Your objection presupposes something that is impossible on my system:  the only way a state could systematically do such things on a large scale is to be a large state.  Yet this is the very thing I deny.  But to answer your question–it could be death, but more likely it will be exile.  And quite frankly, why would a Buddhist or a Romanist even want to live in a Covenanted state?  Secondly, the law punishes crimes, not private sins (which usually are quite unknowable to the outside world).  The OT law made provisions for how foreigners were to be treated, and it was likely understood that these foreigners had not necessarily converted to the worship of Jehovah.

The previous conversation never actually happened as stated, but it is a summary of a number of conversations I had with students and teachers.  After a while I stopped referencing Bahnsen and used the arguments of Rutherford, but to no avail.

*I was actually called this in class.

A monarchist response to Horton and Two Kingdoms

Much of the debate on Two Kingdoms theology is frustrating to watch.  Both sides carpet bomb each other, not realizing they share many presuppositions, or so it would seem.   With Horton I agree that today’s church’s involvement in politics has been a disaster and should be avoided.  Further, to read the bible looking for a specific political system is doomed to failure.  The Old Testament law recommends a Hebrew Republic, but this fails miserably in biblical history and after the monarchy and exile, is not attempted again, prescription in the Law notwithstanding.  The monarchy is initially condemned by God, but later becomes the focal point through which the Messianic prophecies are shaped.  God never promised to restore the Republic to his Messiah.  How flat does that sound?

While I don’t hold to the Platonic and Hegelian view that opposites are in fact identical on one level, it appears nonetheless to be true here:  Kuyperianism/American theonomy is eerily similar, if not identical at the level of presuppositions, to Radical 2 Kingdoms (R2K).   Consider:

  • Neither view seriously challenges the validity of liberal democracy.   I know American theonomists are generally “conservative,” but I am using “liberal” in the sense of John Locke and Adam Smith.
  • While R2K advocates aren’t quite as loud about it, both views consider American-style Republicanism as the only valid political theory.
  • For all of Escondido’s gripes against Kuyper, sphere sovereignty is Two Kingdoms:  The Church cannot get involved in the State, and vice-versa.

Escondido is correct in that the Bible does not give the contents of a specific political order.  This is where American theonomy fails so miserably.  While it is true that the Torah outlines a form of representative government, the American theonomist has to answer a number of immediate and embarrassing questions:   1) The Torah also gives very specific guidelines to future monarchs, so on what grounds do we say that the Bible prescribes republicanism but prohibits monarchy?  2)  If 1 Samuel 8 is the most important political text in the Bible, and so condemnatory of monarchy, how come the prophets base their future hope that the Messiah will be a Davidic monarch and not a theocratic representative?  Let’s pursue this a bit further:  When we read the OT we understand–correctly–that this Davidic monarch is the 2nd Person of the Trinity.   So we sort of understand that such a monarchy is not actually a prescription to future rulers on how to build a political order (though one can certainly and legitimately understand their own monarchy as an imaging of the Davidic monarchy.  Jesus seemed to suggest as much in the Lord’s prayer).  However, an OT reader of these texts would not have (immediately) come to that conclusion.  He would have concluded, “God’s promises will be mediated through a monarchy, not a republic.”  This raises another question about how far the Law can function as prescriptive norm.

So is representative government necessarily illegitimate?  No.  Rutherford and numerous political thinkers (Calvin among them) wisely say that the best form of government is one that naturally reflects the people’s own cultural inheritance.  Monarchy won’t work in America (actually, a far worse centralized government is now functioning in America, yet American conservatives fear the rise of monarchy more than anything else!!!!!!!).

Conclusion:  What did I try to argue?

R2K and theonomy are American phenomena.  Only someone who has received the centuries-long fruit of Lockean politics and who lives in a stable and relatively tolerant land would argue something as inane as Two Kingdoms.   Theonomy seeks a legacy with earlier theocratic positions, but it phrases that legacy around a certain understanding of political order and economics, which would likely render it unintelligble to earlier theocrats.  I suggest that Lockean philosophy, in short, is that connection between American theonomy and R2K.

I also tried to outline, following the Rev. Professor Oliver O’Donovan’s argument in Desire of the Nations, that the monarchy stands as mediator between God and his people, ultimately mediating the Messianic promise. However, to cut off charges of Erastianism at the knees, this mediation was fulfilled in the Second Person of the Trinity and his ascension to the right hand of the father.  Current monarchs do not mediate divine promises.

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.