Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Even the U.N. Gets It

Carl Trueman has evidently stepped into something this past week. He made some statements on Reformation 21 a few days ago that sounded an awful lot like two kingdoms theology. Admittedly, he eschewed the title in light of the fact that he hasn’t done much reading in the area. On Facebook, Anthony Bradley weighed in on the discussion.
Friends, if you ever wonder why Presbyterians turned a blind eye to black suffering during slavery and sat on the sidelines during the Civil-Rights movement, it's the position stated above. This sounds great on paper but if the church has no social witness history demonstrates that "individual Christians" will simply remain individualistic, at least in the American experience by those holding to this view circa 1776-1965ish. Admittedly, I was raised in the black church tradition so we would see this an untenable position. BTW, for the record, I don't believe the church should be involved in government or vice-versa.
I don’t think that Anthony Bradley intends the statement above to be an en toto argument against Trueman’s view, but it is extremely common for opponents of most forms of ‘Two Kingdoms’ to argue consequentially. The suggestion is that if this vaguely defined version of 2K has the field, nobody will ever have a reason to be good in public again.

But it is worth asking the question... does Christianity have something unique to offer in the area of politics or public life that human beings do not already know, by nature? When it comes to slavery or segregation, is there something we know that your average non-Christian doesn’t also know?

I know very few people (who aren’t abject cowards) who, if seeing a child being beaten in the street, would not do something to help him or her. Even if they couldn’t do something themselves, they would call the police or look for someone who could help. Why? Is it because they went to church and heard the Gospel, and something unique about the Gospel impels them to act? Certainly not in all circumstances.
Cicero: "Nature produces a special love of offspring...and to live according to nature is the supreme good."
The American Indians: "The killing of the women and more especially of the young boys and girls who are to go to make up the future strength of the people, is the saddest part...and we feel it very sorely."
Ancient Chinese: "The Master said, Respect the young."
Hinduism: "Children, the old, the poor, etc., should be considered lords of the atmosphere."*
All human beings are born with a sense of right and wrong. This is natural to all human beings by God’s doing. It is the law of God written on the heart (Rom. 1:20) that condemns all men everywhere. This law is insufficient to save; it cannot bring salvation or forgiveness of sins, but it does bring guilt and an awareness of sin, and when God’s restraining hand is gracious in a society, the hearts of men are held in check by this conscience and society is certainly benefited by it.

Having said all of this, however, one need only read a non-Christian document such as The Universal Declaration of Human Rights to see that opposition to slavery or segregation is far from being a uniquely Christian notion.
Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. 
Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of persons. 
Article 4: No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms. 
Article 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. 
Article 6: Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
The point here is that just as it is written on the consciences of all human beings that they should assist a helpless child being hurt, it is also imprinted on the hearts of all people everywhere (though they might suppress it, as they do other aspects of God’s law) that slavery and segregation because of skin color is morally wrong. Christianity has nothing unique to bring to the table in this particular area (although the Gospel brings internal transformation, which gives one a delight in God's law and a consequent outward conformity to that law). To say that this particular aspect of justice is not the mission of the Church is not a condemnation of Christianity or of the Church, but rather a recognition that the Church quo Church has been given the “modest” task of saving souls and holding the spiritual keys to the Kingdom.

*From C.S. Lewis' Appendix in The Abolition of Man

1 comment:

  1. Adam,
    I appreciate the article. You raise some questions/comments in my mind.

    You said:
    "Christianity has nothing unique to bring to the table in this particular area..."
    -If what you are saying above is true, how is it that a fully consistent atheistic worldview, which denies a normative standard of any sort, can account for morality?
    (I already understand your arguments from the NL perspective.)
    What I am getting at is: A consistent presuppositional approach is entirely based on the fact that it is **only** the Christian worldview that accounts for logic, morality, order etc... What is presupposed in presuppositionalism is that morality is in fact inherently Christian. Atheists borrow from the Christian worldview in this regard, and cannot account for their knowledge, morality, ethics..

    You say "This is natural to all human beings by God’s doing. It is the law of God written on the heart (Rom. 1:20) that condemns all men everywhere."
    -I re-read your proof text. The context of this passage in relation to the surrounding verses is talking about what God has revealed (shown) to natural man, not what is written in his heart. This may seem like a minor quibble, but this does have larger implications in connection with other verses as well.

    Rom 2:15 is typically the proof text that is used to justify the law of God being written on natural man's heart. However, if you were to carefully read the verse and the context, you will realize that Paul is clear that he is saying that there are Gentiles (no definite article) who do not have the law (Torah) (v 14) in contrast to the Jews who do have the law (Torah)(Rom 2:17).
    Then immediately after Paul declares that Gentiles who do not have the law (Torah, v 14), he says that they have the **work** of the law (Torah) (v 15) written on their hearts... NOT the law (Torah) itself.
    It is this **work** of the law (Torah) that Gentiles have written in their hearts that functions through the conscience (or is the conscience) that provides moral guidance for Gentiles who do not formally have the Torah..

    Based on this understanding, there is no indication in Rom 2:15 that supports the NL thesis. The entire context is about how the work of the Torah (work of the law of Moses, NOT "natural" law) is what Gentiles have.

    If we are to understand that Rom 1:20 and Rom 2:14-17 are in reference to what is **revealed** to man and that it is the **work** of the Torah written on Gentiles' hearts and NOT the actual law of God (Torah, NOT "natural" law), this changes the NL discussion.
    These verses show that there is nothing inherent within man concerning a moral sense or "conscience" in the sense that you are using that word.

    This moral sense isn't what is inherent within man, but that it is **revealed** to him.
    Even that phrase "written on the heart" implies that this is something that is given, not something that was axiomatically resident within man.

    There are other points that we could certainly go deeply into, but we can touch upon them later.

    Thanks for your time.


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