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R Scott ClarkEven unbelievers and enquirers can appreciate what Dr R Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California (WSC) writes on his Heidelblog.

As many will have grasped, today’s great American debates centre on theonomy versus  secularism and small versus big government.

Dr Clark outlines his transition from an Evangelical to a Calvinist and from a Democrat to a small ‘l’ libertarian. I hope that you find his account as enlightening as I did (emphases mine):

My parents were [Hubert Horatio] Humphrey Democrats [1968, the year Richard Milhous Nixon won the Presidency] and I was that when I went to university. Via Plato, Augustine, and one of my profs I moved toward a sort of socialist neo-Platonism. Reading Calvin, however, and an early confrontation with theonomy actually began to cause me to reconsider my politics/economics even while I was in university. In theonomy I saw the same thing of which I had become suspicious in the Anabaptists, an over-realized eschatology. Calvin’s account of the relations between heaven and earth seemed much more biblical and realistic, i.e., it accounted for human experience.

In sem (WSC) I read more and discovered that my earlier politics were the product of an over-realized eschatology combined with ressentiment (envy). I had institutionalized envy, a violation of the 10th commandment and attempted to make a virtue of it. I began to move toward a more libertarian politics.

I’ve also been influenced by my reading of the NT and 2nd century (early patristic) approach to social issues: Christians said virtually nothing about the social ills of the day. There’s not a shred of evidence in the NT that the church as institution or as organism addressed the grave social and economic inequalities of the period. Their chief request of the authorities was to be left alone to live quietly, “in all godliness.”

The closest thing to advocacy for social change that one might find in the NT is the fairly subtle suggestion in Philemon that perhaps Christians ought not to own other Christians but even then it’s not terribly overt. Scripture seems to assume that private property is a fundamental natural right. In Matt 28 our Lord speaks of the “ο κυρις του αμπελωνος (master or owner of the vineyard). without a hint of irony. The point of the parable is that the owner of the vineyard may do with it as he pleases. Without an owner/owned relation, without the assumption of private property, private ownership of the means of production, without employer/employee relations, the parable doesn’t work.

The same is true throughout the OT. Abraham was a wealthy chief/king with vast property holdings and slaves. To be sure, I am reasonably confident that chattel slavery of the sort practiced in the US in the 18th and 19th centuries (and before in the colonies) is not the same sort of slavery condoned by Scripture but, nevertheless, slavery is clearly practiced and condoned in Scripture. As I said, I’m not a theonomist, I’m Reformed. We confess that the Mosaic covenant has expired and has been abrogated (WCF 19) but there is a “general equity” (i.e., natural law or “light of nature” that exists before Moses, under Moses, and after Moses.

The community of property practiced by the apostolic church was a voluntary, private, temporary, ad hoc response to particular conditions. It was never intended to be instituted generally and certainly not by the state!

The early patristic church took the same approach. Here I’m particularly influenced by the Epistle (or Treatise) to Diognetus (perhaps by Polycarp) c. 150 AD. He lays out as clearly as anyone in the period how Christians related to the broader culture (chapter 5). I’ve quoted it a few times on the HB. Here’s an intro. Here’s a section from chapter 5 that I find particularly instructive:

For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric way of life… For while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship. They live in their own countries but only as nonresidents, they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign. They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring. They share their food but not their wives. They are in the flesh, but they do not live according to the flesh. They live on earth but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws. They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted.

The writer to Diognetus understood a distinction that, for much of modern Reformed history, has been lost: the distinction between the visible church as the chief expression of the eschatological [‘end times’] kingdom of God on the earth and civil society as a proximate, penultimate society. He harbors no illusions about human perfectibility nor is he a radical. He’s not in the streets demanding anything. He only prays that the magistrate will stop killing Christians long enough to realize that we are no threat to the existing order. He’s no anarchist because he understands the difference between the now and the not yet. Anarchism is premised on a conflation of the two in the civil sphere. That’s why the Reformed denounced the Anabaptist riots and their refusal to participate in civil life: both were grounded in an over-realized eschatology (as was their refusal to baptize infants).

There’s a sketch. A blog is obviously no place to do more than that I but I hope it helps.

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