We Are Not Polishing Brass On A Sinking Ship

More than 30 years ago, when I first came into contact with Reformed theology, piety, and practice (the Reformed confession broadly defined), I also came into contact with a movement within the Reformed world known as “Christian Reconstructionism” and its child “theonomy.” In those days, as we discussed and argued eschatological views (mainly a version of postmillennialism that looks forward to the gradual Christianizing of the world prior to the return of Christ and amillennialism, that anticipates both periods of spiritual prosperity and famine prior to Christ’s return but which doesn’t typically anticipate global Christianization) one of the objections that my Reconstructionist/theonomic friends, who tended to hold the postmillennial view, made against amillennial (and anti-Reconstructionist/theonomic) position is that it reduced the role of the Christian in the world to  polishing brass on a sinking ship.” The image, of course, is meant to symbolize futility. The phrase is widely attributed (following Gary North’s attribution) to the late Dispensational radio preacher, J. Vernon McGee (1904–88). Though deceased for 25 years, his voice lives online and on the air. A search of the Through the Bible site doesn’t show the expression but it captures the way many evangelicals came to see their role in the world.

The dominant eschatology (view of last things) among American evangelicals and fundamentalists, in the 19th and 20th centuries, was a form of premillennialism that anticipated the imminent return of Christ over a series of events including a secret rapture, in which believers would be taken bodily from the earth—made famous in the Left Behind songs (“Larry Norman’s, “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”) books, and movies, a tribulation, and Christ’s earthly millennial reign in Jerusalem. Since Christ was soon to return and Christians were to be delivered from the earth, cultural engagement came to be regarded as futile. This view of Christian cultural engagement was further reinforced by a view of God that suggested that God is selectively sovereign or that his in his ability to control events is limited by the exercise of the human will. Associated with these views was a sort of quasi-Manichean dualism that thought of the world as subject to two competing powers, God and Satan. Much of the world, including daily life, was regarded as subject to Satan and even inherently evil. The material world was with suspicion and sense experience was likewise suspect. Finally, these views were associated with a view of the OT that regarded it not only as expired but as practically irrelevant to Christian theology and living. There developed among groups holding these ideas a strong dichotomy between the Old and New Testaments.

The reader who has some familiarity with the history of ideas will recognize the influences of a few ancient Christian heresies and even pagan ideas in this complex of ideas. It was the Gnostics (c. mid-2nd century AD) who taught that the created, material world was inherently evil, that the god of the OT was a demiurge, a demi-god who is utterly distinct from the God of love of the NT. The Gnostics were a Christian heresy, who appropriated Christian ideas but re-defined them and re-contextualized them under the strong influence of pagan Greek notions. Behind them lie the influence of Plato’s skepticism about the reliability of our senses and a general suspicion of the created world. Where the Christians taught that God is not only the Creator and sustainer of all that is, the Manichaeans (3rd century AD), divided the world into competing principles, good and evil (dualism). Where Christianity taught that creation was inherently good, because God is good and he made it so, the Platonic traditions (middle and neo-Platonism) taught a sort of continuum of being, a hierarchy wherein the material world is less good because it has less being) and the immaterial world is better because it has more being. These ideas were incorporated into medieval theology to various degrees, finding expression in the Albigensian movement, to which the Western church responded strongly in the 13th century.

Nevertheless, for reasons that cannot be described in a brief blog post, this complex of ideas came to be regarded even as standard Christian orthodoxy among evangelicals and fundamentalists by the turn of the 20th century. Even though the church has always been divided on the question of the millennium, until very recently, the doctrine of the pre-tribulational, premillennial return of Christ were a touchstone of Christian orthodoxy in evangelical institutions and churches. Until the 1970s, with a few notable exceptions (e.g., Carl Henry and the early Christianity Today) fundamentalist and evangelical cultural engagement consisted of warning parishioners about the dangers of “the world” which was code for booze, cigarettes, movies, and dancing. Evangelicals and fundamentalists, with the liberals, supported the 18th Amendment (establishing prohibition of the sale of alcohol; 1920) but otherwise they tended to regard engagement with broader social concerns (e.g., racism, poverty) as someone else’s business.

In the 1970s evangelicals and fundamentalists, the line between which began to blur, emerged from their social and political isolation. In reaction to the “sinking ship” mentality, some fundamentalists and evangelicals rejected many of the distinctive views with which they had been raised and they embraced aspects of the Reformed theology and piety but they brought with them their old ethos. They transferred the old Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty (QIRC) from cards and films to the correct application of the Mosaic civil law and the coming transformation of the culture through Christian political action (via Christian reconstruction). The rise of this group, emerging from the mainline PCUSA in the 1950s, gave former dualists a way to think about culture. Pessimism became optimism. World flight became dominion.

There are alternatives to both world flight and Reconstruction/theonomy. One alternative is the somewhat milder version of social transformation offered by the (usually amillennial) neo-Kuyperians (followers of Abraham Kuyper), the relations to Kuyper himself (Kuyper v the neo-Kuyperians) and to the older Reformed tradition are disputed. The attraction of some versions of neo-Kuyperianism is that they affirm God’s sovereignty over all thing and they seek to integrate faith and life, to work out a coherent Christian view of the world (worldview). Whether the neo-Kuyperians have achieved their vision of a distinctly Christian view of every human activity is open to question but the desire to recognize Christ’s lordship over all things and to seek to interpret reality through the lenses of Scripture is commendable.

Another approach to accounting for Christ’s lordship over all of life has come to be self-described as the “Two-Kingdoms” theory. Its leading proponents argue that it is faithful to Abraham Kuyper’s vision (as distinct from that of the neo-Kuyperians) by recognizing both that which, under God’s sovereign providence, is common to Christians and non-Christians (common grace; Dutch, Gemeene Gratie), while recognizing the fundamental distinction between belief and unbelief, which Kuyper called the “antithesis.” There is a believing, biblical, obedient, Christian interpretation of reality, a way of looking at things (Weltanschauung) which is at odds with the non-Christian view of things. At the level antithesis, believers and pagans, are irreconcilably opposed. This approach, however, in its best expressions, seeks to account for both that which is common to all humans, under God’s sovereignty, as bearers of the divine image, and that which is not, and to account for the distinct ways or the distinct spheres in which God administers his good providence in the world.

Just as it was possible, however, for ex-evangelicals fleeing the world-flight of fundamentalism, to run straight into the arms of Christian dominionism, so too, it’s possible for ex-evangelicals, fleeing the Christian triumphalism of post-1976 evangelicalism to flee to the arms of a kind of over-realized eschatology and world-flight.

Above I sketched briefly, in broad strokes, why and how many American evangelicals came to see cultural engagement as fruitless. According to scholars of American evangelicalism, the world-flight that marked fundamentalism and evangelicalism began to shift after World War II. Carl Henry’s call to re-engage the culture is symbolic of the shift. Thirty years later, after Jimmy Carter’s inauguration, it seemed as if everyone was “born again.” Through the 1980s the Moral Majority and other like organizations announced plans to “take back America,” wherein the neo-evangelicals would take their place once again in a place of influence in the culture. Jimmy Carter had proved a disappointment, but with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 it seemed as if the campaign was succeeding. During the next 12 years of the Reagan and G. H. W. Bush administrations it seemed as if the Republican Party might indeed be the evangelical church at prayer. In their success, however, were planted seeds of future discontent and reaction.

In the same post-World War II culture that saw the re-engagement of fundamentalism (Henry’s term) with the culture also saw a growing influence of neo-Kuyperianism in the broader evangelical world. Those evangelicals who lacked a grammar and categories to account for cultural engagement found it in the way Kuyper had been appropriated. By the 1980s “worldview” was a buzzword. During the 1980s evangelicals had also turned to the theonomy and Christian reconstruction movements for inspiration and intellectual leadership. Those two sources of engagement, neo-Kuyperianism and theonomy/reconstructionism, both tended to speak in triumphalist terms relative to the future and relative to the broader, largely non-Christian culture. Supported by their postmillennialism, theonomy/reconstructionism looked forward to a future Christian “dominion“ through the gradual leavening of the culture by Christian cultural and political influence. In their own way, in contrast to the culturally pessimistic Dispensational versions of pre-millennialism, the neo-Kuyperians also looked optimistically at the future. They spoke of “transforming” the culture and “redeeming” the culture.

Nevertheless, Washington and American culture more broadly proved to be harder to reform than some, perhaps many, evangelicals had anticipated. Just as evangelicals (including, for the sake of this discussion, theonomists/reconstructionists, and neo-Kuyperians of various sorts) were positioned close to the levers of political and cultural influence, the culture squirted, as it were, through their collective fingers. During the Reagan administration broadcasting was deregulated, cable television exploded in popularity, and suddenly the sources of cultural influence were not three broadcast networks but a growing number of cable outlets that were not subject to the same sorts of regulations that had governed the broadcast stations. Radio stations, which once aired a considerable amount of religious programming as part of their “public affairs” commitment dumped it in favor of revenue-producing commercial programming. The market for media became increasingly fragmented. Then, came public access to the Internet in the early 90s. The speed at which media sources proliferated, at which niche marketing became the norm, increased exponentially so that today, just as the Big 3 (or 4) broadcast networks no longer set the agenda for television, not longer do two newspapers (The New York Times and the Washington Post) set the agenda for print (as it were) journalism.

Thus, the “Christian Right” did not achieve much of what it had hoped. 20 years after the inauguration of Jimmy Carter, another Southern Democrat was in the White House and he was seeking to reverse the Reagan Revolution. A series of scandals, his impeachment (does anyone remember that a president was impeached in our lifetime?) and opposition by a Republican House of Representatives slowed his momentum in his second term. The 9/11 attacks plunged the West into a long war with a hard-to-find, religiously motivated enemy that, for some—perhaps unfairly—cast doubt on very idea of social engagement fueled by a deeply held religious rejection of Modernity.

Those born after the first Reagan inaugural have grown up assuming the post-Reagan prosperity as a given but they’ve also grown up with a president who did not have sex with “that woman” (even when it turned out he had) and who wanted to deconstruct the verb “is.” They’ve grown up under the specter of 9/11. The city shining on a hill had lost some of its luster. The decades of religious scandals and embarrassments (Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy, Robert Tilton, Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn ad nauseam) had diminished the credibility of the evangelical project of Christian cultural renewal. The parents and grandparents of the Millennials (18–34) have been ambivalent about late modernity. Mom works because they like the new standard of living but she feels guilty about it. Many of their friends are divorced, so heterosexual marriage hasn’t fared well during the very period when evangelical political-cultural influence was at its height. The children and grandchildren of the Baby Boomers seem largely to accept a high divorce rate among heterosexuals and homosexual marriage as inevitable and even as a good thing. As a group, the Millennials tend toward subjectivism. Even the true believers, the theonomists/reconstructionists seem to have given up their original program of cultural transformation through direct political action (Rushdoony’s followers). Instead, they’ve turned to a program of cultural transformation through sacerdotalism, via their theology of baptismal election-union-justification etc ostentatiously self-glossed as  “The Federal Vision.” Jerry Falwell spins in his grave. Despite the evangelical rhetoric of triumph, renewal, and transformation, the culture today seems largely dominated by low-information voters who are more like Snooki than Groen van Prinsterer (1801–76).

There were cracks in the intellectual foundation of the post-WWII evangelical social re-engagement. The evangelical appropriation of Kuyper was thin. It borrowed bits of his vocabulary without his theology and especially without his ecclesiology (doctrine of the church and sacraments). Fuller Seminary isn’t the Free University of Amsterdam. The American evangelicals weren’t much interested in the antithesis and common grace as much as they were in practical, political, cultural, and social outcomes. Where, for Kuyper, “worldview” had referred to a comprehensive interpretation of the meaning of God’s world in light of God’s Word as understood and confessed by the Reformed churches, it became, among American evangelicals, a fairly shallow cliché, a symbol that stood of evangelical-Republican politics and a return to the Eisenhower years. It’s not an accident that Happy Days was one of the more popular TV shows of the 1970s.

It is one thing, however, to write of “redeeming” culture but it is another thing to justify that way of speaking from Scripture and the Christian tradition. Biblically, “to redeem” is to purchase from slavery or to deliver from bondage. Where does Scripture speak of the redemption of the arts or commerce? It does not. According to Scripture we have been redeemed from the curse of the law. Believers have been redeemed from lawlessness and we have been redeemed from transgressions.

It is difficult to see how speaking of redeeming or “taking back” culture doesn’t imply the very sort of dualism against which the neo-Kuyperians and theonomists/reconstructionists were reacting. If someone removes food from my plate, I might reach across the table to take it back. It was mine, then it was lost, then it was recovered. That’s simply not true if we’re speaking of God’s sovereign providence. Nothing has been removed from his control and dominion. Christ was Lord when the West (at least nominally) recognized him under Christendom. He was Lord when the Enlightenment rebelled against him and he is Lord now that most of the culture, most of the time, seems completely ignorant of him.

Of course, what is usually intended by the verbs “to redeem” and “to take back“ is actually something like “to acknowledge Christ’s Lordship over all things.” Where or among whom should Christians expect to see the Lordship of Christ openly acknowledged? Did the apostles expect Herod, Pilate, Claudius, Nero, or Domitian to acknowledge Christ the Lord as a matter of their office? Nothing about Romans 13 even hints that only those are truly God’s civil ministers who acknowledge Christ as Lord.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

The great difficulty, however, is that most of the time evangelicals haven’t been thinking principally in biblical or confessional Reformed categories but in Constantinian categories. Consider the prevalence of the imagery and ethos of the crusades among evangelicals. It is so deeply engrained in our way of looking at the broader culture, the non-Christian culture, that, particularly in reaction to the cultural rebellion of the 1960s and the sexual hedonism of the 1970s, we adopted a crusade stance without even realizing it. How many Christian organizations continue to use the image of crusading? Campus Crusade for Christ may now be Cru but it’s just an abbreviation. How often has post-WWII Christian cultural engagement been cast as a crusade? Do a Google search using the terms “Christian,” “school,” and “crusaders.”1 In turn, the renewed adoption of the “crusade” provoked a renewed, if more sophisticated, sort of world flight.

So, the question persists: Is there a way for Christians to engage the culture that gets us off the whipsaw of world-flight (monasticism, Anabaptism, pietism) and dominion/transformation (Christendom, theonomy/reconstruction, neo-Kuyperianism)?

So far I have sketched the basis for evangelical rejection of political/cultural-engagement. I have also briefly outlined the transformational-theonomic-reconstructionist reaction. Next I want to address three theological errors and their practical consequences.

First, however, let’s establish a biblical-theological foundation for the discussion. In Genesis 1 and in John 1 God’s Word teaches unequivocally that God sovereignly spoke creation into existence by the power of his Word and that everything that has come into being did so through the personal agency of God the Son, the Word of God. Creation was an act of the Triune God. The Holy Spirit hovered over the face of the deep. God spoke into nothing and made all that is. That same Triune God exercises the same sovereign power in sustaining and governing creation. Creation has always been and shall always be utterly dependent and contingent upon the sovereign providence of the Triune God. There is no basis in Scripture for thinking that, after the act of creating that God retreated from his sovereign control over all things. This means that he is sovereign when bridges collapse and when bombs explode. We also understand that God exercises his sovereignty through human agents and other second causes. He operates with and through the free choices that human beings make. God is always in control and humans are always morally responsible for their free acts. He flooded the world that then was (Gen 6–9). He hardened Pharaoh’s heart and, in turn, he hardened his own heart. He led the Israelites through the Red Sea on dry ground (Ex 14). The Holy Spirit came in sovereign power, not in contingency. According to Psalm 2, God rules the nations the nations with a rod of iron (Ps 2). Civil rulers are his servants (Rom 13), in their sphere, just as ecclesiastical ministers are God’s servants in their sphere (Eph 3:7; Col 1:25). God’s Word is sufficient for all that it intends to do.

For these reasons, the church universal (catholic) confesses “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth” (Apostles’ Creed). In our Heidelberg Catechism Q. 27 we confess,

27. What do you understand by the providence of God?

The almighty, everywhere present power of God, whereby, as it were by His hand, He upholds heaven and earth with all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things come not by chance, but by His Fatherly hand.

We also understand that God administers his sovereign control over all things in different spheres. The church does not administer civil law or justice and the state does not administer the means of grace. We understood that during the Reformation, even under the influence of Constantinianism. From the Reformed tradition we have always understood that, in God’s providence, there are aspects of life that believers and unbelievers have in common. All humans, believers and unbelievers alike, eat, drink, sleep, travel, and conduct business together. Nevertheless, there is an antithesis between the way believers and unbelievers interpret God’s world. Believers understand that the blessings we receive from God’s hand are not the result of chaos and chance. Believers acknowledge that the heavens declare the glory of God (Ps 19:1).

Because creation and everything in it was created by God, is upheld by God (Acts 17) it all belongs to God by right, even when rebellious creatures refuse to acknowledge him (Rom 1:21). Further, God the Son incarnate, through whom all things came into being, who upholds and governs all things (Ps 2; Acts 2:36; 10:36; 1Cor 8:6; Eph 4:8. NB: Jesus is called Lord about 95 times in the NT). He came announcing the Kingdom God (Mark 1:15), not a radically democratic cooperative. A kingdom is a hierarchy. The king rules and the people obey. That’s the nature of a kingdom.

In light of these basic Christian truths then we can address three errors that distort the Christian engagement with the broader culture.

  • The notion that Christ is not actually sovereign over all things but he will be at some later point.
  • To affirm Christ’s present dominion over all things but to ignore the movement of redemptive history so that post-canonical civil rulers are regarded as if they were canonical, Israelite kings fulfilling a role in redemptive history.
  • To conclude that, because Christ administers his dominion in multiple spheres that somehow we cannot speak from God’s Word to every area of life.

First, theologically considered, it does not matter how long one postpones Christ’s Lordship or to what point, whether a future millennial reign or during a future golden era ushered in by the global spread of the Christian faith. The Scriptures teach and the Reformed faith confesses that Christ is Lord presently and nothing happens apart from his sovereign decree. The great error in virtually every modernist account of the doctrine of God is that they make him part of the process of history. In one way or another God is said by modernists to “become.” The God of the Bible, of creation, providence, and redemption, who sovereignly raised Jesus from the dead, who sovereignly elects and reprobates (Rom 9; Eph 1–2), is not “becoming” or in process. The God of the Bible is. He says, “I am who I am (Ex 3:14). God is the only entity who can say “I AM.” The rest of us are creatures and we must all confess, there was when I was not. I am contingent. God is. He has always been. He shall always be. He isn’t becoming Lord. He is Lord. There is not a future time when, under the right conditions, he will become Lord. He is Lord right now. His kingdom is now. That the kingdom does not meet some expectations is not God’s problem. Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom and neither the Jews nor Pilate were impressed. Jesus didn’t much care.

Second, God established Israel to perform a unique, temporary role in the history of redemption. The function of the Israelite kings was not to establish a pattern for post-canonical, secular rulers. Their primary function was to point to Christ. Thus, we cannot read the history of the kings of Israel and Judah and then draw a straight line between them and post-canonical kings, whether Caesar or Charlemagne or the President of the United States. That is an abuse of Scripture, i.e., putting Scripture to a use for which it was never intended. Yes, it is certainly true that Christians, including Reformed Christians, have a long history of reading Scripture this way. It was a mistake. People read Scripture in a given context and that context, with all the assumption it entails, is a powerful influence on the way God’s people read Scripture at a given time. For about 1500 years the church read Scripture in the context of or under the influence of the Constantinian assumption, that the civil ruler, as God’s minister, is ordained by God to establish a church or to punish heretics. Exegetically and theologically those assumptions were in error. There is not a shred of evidence in the NT or in the way the NT teaches us to read the Old Covenant that intends to cause us to think that God intends for civil rulers, after the expiration and abrogation of the Israelite economy, to establish the church, enforce orthodoxy, or punish heretics. When the Psalms speak of the king (e.g., Ps 2), according to the NT (Acts 2) we’re to understand that king is Jesus and he is ruling now. Peter preached that “This Jesus whom you crucified, God has made him both Lord and Christ.” He isn’t becoming Lord. He doesn’t become Lord when we recognize him as such. He is Lord, now. He is ruling now. He was ruling when Herod, Pilate, and Nero plotted against believers. Peter interprets David’s life as a pointer to Christ’s life and present reign. He does not move from David to Jesus to Caesar. He stops with Jesus. Paul doesn’t move from the Israelite kings to Caesar in Romans 13. He grounds Caesar’s role in nature, not in redemption. It is the failure to distinguish these two spheres of God’s sovereign operation that contributes to this confusion.

Finally, there is a temptation among those who distinguish between the spheres in which God administers his sovereign rule, perhaps in reaction to the second error, to restrict unduly the ways in which God’s Word is applied to every sphere of life. To be sure, there are proper and improper applications of God’s Word. Sometimes one gets the impression that some think that because God is sovereign, and because I think God’s Word applies to a certain situation this way, anyone who disagrees with my application of Scripture is denying God’s sovereignty. Obviously that is a non sequitur. God is sovereign but your application of Scripture is not. There is a difference. There are limits on the sort so of things to which ministers should speak. Ministers are not ordinarily physicians or physicists. We are not called, in our office as ministers, to give medical advice or to speak authoritatively on the latest developments in physics. The law and the gospel were true under the pre-modern physics, under Newtonian physics, and under post-Newtonian physics. However many scientific revolutions have happened since the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople (I), the Nicene-Constantinoplitan Creed has not changed. Medicine has changed dramatically but the law and the gospel have not.

Rather, we should think and say that everything to which his Word intends to speak is a proper object of the ministry (proclamation and application) of the Word. We are called to preach the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:21). We are called to speak to cultural developments as God’s people are called to live out their faith in their daily lives. Faithful living will bring engagement with the broader, unbelieving culture. That intersection should raise questions. “The prevailing non-Christian culture says x, but the Scriptures and the faith say y. How should we respond? ” The application of God’s Word requires wisdom, patience, and care but we cannot shrink back from our vocation.

This is not a call for a Jihad (nor to turn the pulpit into a partisan political organ) against unbelievers or for an undue focus on their behavior—that’s like shooting ducks on the water—but where a passage speaks or necessarily implies (by good and necessary inference) a contrast between the biblical view and a pagan view of a matter, we shouldn’t hesitate to follow God’s Word where ever it leads. Consider, for example, the practice of abortion. I doubt the wisdom of a pro-life Sunday just as I doubt the observance of Mothers Day on the Sabbath. It is the Lord’s Day and it shouldn’t be co-opted by this or that interest. Nevertheless, a consistently Christian interpretation of reality (worldview) will yield a view of the inherent value of humans as image bearers. The prevailing pagan ideology and practice of abortion denies the humanity and image-bearing status of infant humans and thus sees no reason to protect them. There is a Christian view of humanity and there are pagan views of humanity. Those different views lead to different ethical systems and thence to different practices. When we come to a biblical text that speaks to the Christian view of humanity or to the inherent value of human life, we should speak to this issue. Now, we should do so carefully, recognizing that there may be those in the congregation who may have made serious mistakes (even sins) in their past. We trust that such are penitent but we should be as gracious with the grieving as we are firm with the impenitent. Nevertheless, ministers are called to serve the Word. We must go where the Word leads. We should refrain from carefully applying the Word because some might not like it.

This is God’s world. Christ has established his kingdom. He sustains everything by his providence and has established a mission representing his kingdom in the world. As kingdom citizens we are his emissaries to the world. As king he has spoken and interpreted all things. Christ is returning and he will bring his reign to consummation in glory. Until that moment, however, we are left to die to sin, live to Christ, and by his Spirit, read the Word with the church and to acknowledge his Lordship by serving him in every aspect of our lives, in each sphere, to his glory. We are not polishing brass on a sinking ship because the world is not a sinking ship. It is the theatre of his glory. We are serving Christ the King as his people, in the station to which he has called us. He is accomplishing his purposes. He will be glorified.

NOTES

  1. It’s interesting to observe, however, how frequently the Christian Coalition uses the crusade metaphor to describe its ideological opponents. In this case, the coalition isn’t describing itself as crusading entity but rather positioning itself as the victim of crusading.

Places In The New Testament Speaking Directly About The Civil Magistrate

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course (Luke 13:31–32; ESV)

“Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt 22:21).

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36; ESV).

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for she is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, tan avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed (Romans 13:1–7; ESV).

But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of the emperor, I ordered him to be held until I could send him to Caesar.” Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” said he, “you will hear him.”

So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in (Acts 25:21–23; ESV)

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor (1 Peter 2:13–17; ESV)

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior (1 Timothy 2:1–3; ESV)

The Cross And A Twofold Kingdom

This essay was originally published, in two parts, in 2014 on the Heidelblog.

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The cross atop Mt Soledad, in LaJolla has been in place since 1954 but it has been the subject of controversy and continuous and tortuous legal wrangling since at least 1989, when two atheists and the “Society of Separationists” sued in federal court claiming that the cross violates both the U.S. and state constitutions.1

The History of the Controversy
The Federal District Court for the Southern District of California ruled in favor of the complainants in 1991. The next year San Diego voters approved the sale of the land to the Mt Soledad Memorial Association, a private entity. The wrangling has continued unabated since. The ruling upheld by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit. The full appeals court re-affirmed it the next year. The San Diego City Council voted to sell the property to the Memorial Association but the federal court that originally heard the case ruled that the sale was unconstitutional according to the California constitution. The San Diego City Council again voted to sell the property to the highest bidder, the Memorial Association. This time the original court and a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit upheld the sale because the terms did not require the cross be kept but on appeal but another court ruled against the sale saying that the city gave the veterans group an advantage. In 2003, the Supreme Court declined to hear the city’s appeal. The next year San Diego voters rejected a proposal to sell the cross and the adjacent land to the highest bidder. Plans were made to move the cross to a nearby church. In 2005, a special election, citizens voted to donate the cross and land to the Federal Department of the Interior but a San Diego superior court ruled against the land transfer on the grounds that it is an unconstitutional aid to religion. In 2006, the original federal district court ordered the city to remove the cross but that order was blocked by US Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy and President Bush signed a law transferring the cross to the Defense Dept as a war memorial but several organizations challenged that law. The same year, a state appeals court overturned the superior court ruling. In 2008, the original federal district court (different judge, the original judge has retired) upheld the transfer to the Department of Defense on the grounds that the secular message outweighs the religious significance but that ruling was overturned, in 2011, by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit. The next year the Supreme Court refused to hear and appeal. This refusal essentially forced the original Federal District court to order the removal of the cross earlier this month. Of course, that ruling has been stayed because of an appeal by the Memorial Association. The publicity release does not specify to which court the appeal is being made but it would seem as if it must go to the 9th Circuit again and thence, the the USOC.

The Irony of the Cross
This is a remarkable history on several levels. The attempts to sell the land to a private party seem to be eminently sensible in principle but apparently bungled more than once. In Lemon v Kurtzman (1971) the court held:

  • “The statute must have a secular legislative purpose”
  • the “principal or primary effect” of the statute “must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion”
  • “the statute must not foster an excessive governmental entanglement with religion”

The court rulings against the sale reveal the weakness of the Lemon Test, which Justice Scalia has likened to a late-night ghoul. The attempts to sell the property were not obviously religious in nature. They didn’t, in themselves, advance religion and they didn’t foster excessive entanglement with religion except that the Lemon Test itself does nothing to forestall the endless series of complaints, judgments, and appeals.

Of course, the Lemon Test isn’t the Constitution. Remember, the establishment clause of the First Amendment says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….

cross-flag-signs-copyright-rscottclark

©R. Scott Clark 2013

It is reasonable to think that both Christians and non-Christians might not want to spend public funds on a massive (45-foot) Christian symbol but Michelle Malkin’s claim that the litigation against the cross represents a form a “cruciphobia” seems somewhat justified by the history of the case. By selling the property to a private interest, the problem of public entanglement with a Christian symbol would seem to be relieved but the complainants seem only to be satisfied with the destruction of the cross. This should trouble those Americans who value private property and freedom defined as the relative absence of governmental intrusion into our private lives. This should also trouble Americans who think that Christians may and should be active in the public square. It is one thing to argue, as I have done, that Christians should be relatively humble in their engagement in the public square. It is quite another, however, to say, in effect: “Get out, you don’t belong here.” We certainly do and there is nothing about the Christian faith or the public square that suggests that Christians must leave their faith at the door when they participate in public life. Christians vote. Christian pay taxes and are generally good citizens. Like everyone else, Christians have an interpretation of the meaning of reality. The Christian life is not a purely private matter. The faith entails a way of life, an ethic that has consequences for the way we live our lives in the public sphere.

With the American founders, historically Christians have believed that there is such a thing as nature—the Declaration does speak of “laws of nature and of nature’s God”—and there are divinely established norms revealed in nature (and therefore universally known) and in Scripture. When, for example, we appeal to nature against homosexual marriage, we’re not seeking a theocracy or imposing anything on anyone. Human beings are creatures. Therefore there are moral and physical limits to what we can and may do. If one think that all limits are purely human constructs then let him test that theory by jumping off a three-story building.  The Christians no more invented human biology and sexuality than we invented the laws of gravity. Christians (and more than a few non-Christians) are simply recognizing the nature of things. There are males and females. That is fact that no amount of deconstruction can undo.

Nevertheless, this Christian is ambivalent about the Mt Soledad Cross. The cross is an established, generic grave marker. Before that, of course, it was an early Christian symbol associated with Christian suffering, and in the high middle ages it became a symbol of the European reaction to Islamic aggression and more in the crusades, but before the Christian use of the cross, it was a symbol of Roman power and oppression, so it has had more than one use and more than one message. So, the Christian appropriation of the cross has always been complex. From the beginning our embrace of the cross was intentional and ironic. After all, our Savior was unjustly murdered by Romans on a cross and yet, through the cross, what humans intended for evil, God meant for the greatest possible good: the salvation of all his people and his own glory.

Thus, it was with no little irony that the message of the cross was featured in both Jesus’ and Paul’s preaching. Our Lord himself defined the Christian life, discipleship, by the cross:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24, ESV)

In characterizing the Christian life this way, he was foreshadowing something that the disciples would not understand until Pentecost. Sadly, these words have probably lost their shock value. When our Lord spoke them, however, they must have or should have struck like a thunderbolt. The Roman cross was a filthy, revolting sign of Roman political oppression and shame. That sense is reflected in Hebrews 12:2, when the pastor reminds his congregation, who were being tempted to turn away from Christ, that Jesus despised the shame of the cross. He did not despise the cross but rather he rejected the shame. He embraced the cross for our sake.

For Paul, the cross became a symbol of the power of Christ and his gospel. Through the cross, Paul wrote to the Colossians, God cancelled

the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:13-15, ESV)

The very thing that was meant to be instrument of destruction of Jesus and his followers became instead the symbol of salvation, hope, and new life. In its original context, however, we can can understand why those paleo-pagans whom Paul evangelized (in contrast to the neo-pagans whom we evangelize) considered the cross an offense:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Both Jews and the Greeks (the Stoics and the Epicureans) thought of religion as a means to power. The Christian message, however, was one of weakness. We worship a crucified Jew, who did nothing to prevent his execution; indeed he seemed to encourage it. The earliest post-apostolic critics of Christianity in the 2nd century mocked the Christians mercilessly for worshipping a crucified criminal. The Apostles taught Christians to live quiet and godly lives (1Tim 2:2). There is not even a suggestion that the apostles expected to transform Greco-Roman culture. They expected to suffer and prepared the Christians to suffer. The cross symbolized that relationship to the broader culture.

Secularizing The Cross To Save It
Christians and others understand instinctively (or through experience) that the increasingly neo-pagan culture in which we live is increasingly intolerant of Christianity. Part of this is due to ignorance—many Americans have had no meaningful experience of or education about Christianity. Take a poll on any major university campus about basic Christian doctrines and history and you will quickly find that the future decision-makers know nothing about Christianity. The only Christians they’ve ever seen have been on television and most of us would probably not select most televised Christians to do our PR for us.

It says something about where the culture is that the cross stood unmolested atop Mt Soledad from 1954 to 1989. That’s just about from the height of the Cold War to its end. During that period the church and Christianity were not as often prized for their intrinsic worth but rather for their social utility. The church and the faith were seen as bulwarks against an external atheistic menace. Meanwhile, back home, the culture (and too often the church with it) was grooming generations of atheists. What was only murmured in coffee houses in the 50s and 60s became outright hostility by the late 1980s.

One response by the defenders of the Mt Soledad cross, however well intended it be, has the effect of stripping the power of the cross by reducing it to a purely secular symbol. In order to save the cross they are removing its offense. Christians have good reason to worry about this strategy for saving the Mt Soledad cross.

Re-Scandalzing The Cross

In Galatians 5:11 Paul used some strong words for the Galatian Judaizers, those who would put believers back under the law (i.e., works) for acceptance with God. The Judaizers, he wrote, have “removed” the offense of the cross. They did so by attempting to add to it. If we are accepted by God for Christ’s sake and our obedience (even if that obedience is defined as “faith”) then, Paul says, Christ’s death has been made worthless. If the Judaizers think circumcision is so powerful then they should go the whole way and emasculate themselves. In our context, we could say to Judaizers of our day (e.g., the self-described Federal Visionists)  that if they think baptismal water is so powerful why don’t they drown themselves?

The point in the present discussion is that the cross should not be tidied up for the sake of its use in civil life. That is too great a cost for Christians to pay. If the cross may be used in public life without emptying it of its religious significance, then I am content to allow the cross to be used for civic or public purposes. If the Mt Soledad cross is destroyed then it is hard to see how the same logic will not result in the removal of crosses from public burial grounds everywhere and, after that, the removal of religious symbols from any public (tax-funded) space. Will churches no longer serve as polling places? Where will this logic lead?

I suspect that it may no longer be possible, if it ever was, to have a truly Christian cross with a secular use.  The attempt to drive Christians out of public life, whether through shaming (“how dare you say that x is sinful! You can’t say that!”) or in the name of tolerance, or through civil action (e.g., litigation) is symbolic of more than the declining fortunes of Christianity. It signifies the last death throes of Christendom. When the Mt Soledad cross went up it was not, as far as I know, controversial but it became controversial. The cross didn’t move but the culture moved around it, as it were, at its feet. Some interpret the present hostility toward Christians in the public square as payback for the hubris of the fundamentalist forays into politics in the 70s and 80s. There may be some truth in that. It is reasonable to ask why resistance to Christian symbols (whether the cross or the decalogue) seems so much more plausible today than it did in nearly 60 years ago. Another part of the explanation may lie in shifting demographics. Rural and putatively more religious parts of the country are declining and urban areas are growing. Urban areas tend to be less religious and diversity is given a higher value. In rural areas, conformity and religion are more highly valued.

In all events, the cross should remain offensive. When Paul and the rest of the apostles preached the scandalous cross, there was a cost associated with being a Christian. This is why Paul wrote, in Galatians 6:12 that those who “make a good showing in the flesh,” who “would force you to be circumcised” do so “in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ” (Galatians 6:12, ESV).

Our culture may not yet be so anti-Christian that we feel this hostility regularly but the advance shock waves are palpable. In other parts of the world, however, there are not mere rumors of hostility. The Christmas season just past saw the wholesale slaughter of Christians in Syria (warning: the link is to a news story with graphic images of Christian persecution). Christians are suffering in the Sudan, in Egypt, and, of course, in China and in many other parts of the world. The (formerly) Christian West seems largely indifferent to the global suffering of Christians. That is also probably an indicator of the spiritual state of the West. Why should neo-Pagans care about what is happening to a bizarre death cult—which is how the Christian faith appeared to some paleo-pagans in the 2nd century—on the other side of the globe? They have their own problems: their internet connection is really slow today.

That the cross remains controversial, however difficult it may make the lives of Christians after Christendom, is good thing. Let the cross be offensive for the reasons it should be offensive, rather than for the reasons it is too often offensive.

How Calvin Helps
Above I sketched the history and current legal status of the Mt Soledad Cross and I indicated some ambivalence about that use of the cross. On the one hand, it seems clear that some opposition to the cross is less about “separation of church and state” (given the attempts to privatize the land on which the cross sits) and more about an attempt to remove the cross from public view. This animus is symbolic of the broader attempt to marginalize Christian speech and action (and speech and actions by Christians) from the public square. If the cross is still scandalous, that is a good thing. On the other hand, it appears that the cost of saving the public display of the Mt Soledad cross (and other public uses of the cross and other Christian symbols) will be to secularize it to such a degree that the cross must be shorn of its Christian significance. This is too high a price for Christians to pay. If we must make the unhappy choice between retaining a purely secular Mt Soledad cross or removing a cross with Christian signification, then we should choose the latter

There is a way of thinking about this issue and others like it that I have found helpful. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion John Calvin (1509–64) wrote of God’s “twofold reign” or “double government” in the world:

Therefore, in order that none of us may stumble on that stone, let us first consider that there is a twofold government in man (duplex esse in homine regimen): one aspect is spiritual, whereby the conscience is instructed in piety and in reverencing God; the second is political, whereby man is educated for the duties of humanity and citizenship that must be maintained among men. These are usually called the “spiritual” and the “temporal” jurisdiction (not improper terms) by which is meant that the former sort of government pertains to the life of the soul, while the latter has to do with the concerns of the present life—not only with food and clothing but with laying down laws whereby a man may live his life among other men holily, honorably, and temperately. For the former resides in the inner mind, while the latter regulates only outward behavior. The one we may call the spiritual kingdom, the other, the political kingdom. Now these two, as we have divided them, must always be examined separately; and while one is being considered, we must call away and turn aside the mind from thinking about the other. There are in man, so to speak, two worlds, over which different kings and different laws have authority (1559 Institutes 3.19.15; Battles edition).

I understand that the term two kingdoms has become controversial. It seems to be as often misunderstood as it often used. Some critics suggest or claim explicitly that any distinction between one sphere and another in God’s providential rule over the world somehow diminishes his dominion. This way of thinking makes little sense to me. Others talk about “the two kingdoms” as if that phrase represented some monolithic analysis of Christ and culture. That too is quite false. Finally, some proponents of “two kingdoms” seem to think that it implies that Christians have no place or voice in the culture or political or common life of men. I reject this application of the distinction. To distinguish between two aspects of God’s kingdom is really just to ask a question: “How does God administer his sovereignty in this sphere?” It is one thing to ask a question, it is quite another to answer it and clearly, as people look for alternatives to early 20th-century neo-Calvinist approaches, they are arriving at different answers to the question.

One way forward might be two adopt a slightly different way of speaking about God’s sovereign rule over all things. We might do this on analogy with the traditional Reformed language about “the covenant” of God. Classic Reformed theologians frequently spoke about “the covenant” and then proceeded to distinguish clearly between the covenants of redemption (pactum salutis), works (foedus operum), and grace (foedus gratiae). They could speak of covenant and covenants, depending upon the context. There are moralistic versions of monocovenantal theology, e.g., those that conflate the covenants of works and grace but to speak of “one covenant” is not necessarily to subscribe the monocoventalism of the Shepherdites, the self-described Federal Visionists, et al.

I’m not sure when but sometime back it occurred to me that Calvin’s expression is duplex regimen is translated in the Battles edition as “twofold government.” That seems right. When we translate the phrase duplex gratia Dei, we use “twofold” or “double grace of God.” This phrase summarizes Calvin’s doctrine that God’s grace both justifies and sanctifies, that progressive sanctification is a consequence of definitive justification. On this see Cornel Venema’s fine work. Olevianus used the phrase duplex beneficium, which I usually translate “twofold” or “double benefit.” Thus, we should probably translate Calvin’s phrase “duplex regimen” as “double” or “twofold kingdom” or “twofold government.”

In this case, two distinguish, as Calvin did, between two spheres of God’s government in the world, is hardly to deny his lordship or the Christian’s place in the world. There is one God who administers his government in two distinct sphere. The context of Calvin’s use of the phrase is his discussion and defense of Christian liberty. There were three great threats to Christian freedom in the 16th century: Romanist legalism, which attempted to bind the Christian’s conscience with innumerable man-made rules and obligations (e.g., the church calendar, five false sacraments, and submission to the Roman bishop), libertinism, and spiritualism. The libertines wanted to use Reformation as an opportunity to throw off human government altogether. There were also religious radicals who thought that the nature of the new covenant is such and we are so guided by the Spirit now that we no longer have any need for human, civil government.

In 3.19.9 he wrote of the spirituality of Christian freedom, of its close connection to the freedom Christians have from the curse of the law. Under Rome, we had been placed under a man-made law. We were in a sort of Babylonian Captivity. Others, of course, were abusing their newly recovered Christian liberty as an occasion to sin. In 3.15.10 he complained about those who make a show of their liberty, as though unless others could see them using it, they were not truly free. In 3.19.11, he worked through the question of how we may exercise our liberty in Christ without causing offense (scandal) and how we should avoid being bound by the Pharisees (e.g., Romanist legalists), whom he described as “supercilious.” In 3.19.12 he discussed the relationship between Christian liberty and the weaker brother. Obviously, he was meditating on 1 Corinthians 8. In the next section he reinforced the normative character of the moral law, the law of love to God and neighbor, as the limit of Christian freedom. In 3.19.14 he described the freedom of the conscience as that which Christ has purchased with his blood. As we come to the section before us (3.19.15), then, it is clear that his chief interest has been to account for Christian liberty.

In 3.19.15, he begins with with a warning that Christian liberty does not mean that believers are free from human government. That was the error of the libertines and the radicals. We are, instead, he wrote, under a “duplex regimen,” one spiritual, which forms “the conscience to piety” and the other is “political” or civil. In this aspect of God’s reign in human affairs, we learn “civility” and “humanity.” Remember, one of the earliest criticisms of the Christians by the Greco-Roman pagans of the 2nd century was that they were uncivil and inhumane because they distinguished between adhering to civil law, so far as Scripture and conscience permitted, and their religion. For the pagans there was no distinction. A good Roman citizen offered sacrifices or poured out libations and swore fidelity to Caesar and the gods. To refuse the Roman cultus made one “inhumane” or a “hater of humanity.” So, Calvin wants to make clear that though Christians are not “of this world,” i.e., the source of their spiritual life is not of this world nevertheless, we are very much in this world and that, in both spheres, we live under the lordship of Christ.

Calvin distinguished between spiritual and temporal aspects of this twofold reign. The latter refers to “the life of the soul” and the former to “the present state.” We might say that one his historical and the other eschatological. Our civil, common life together with unbelievers has to do with this life. The civil, common sphere has to do with external conduct. Calvin was quite pointed that they must be considered separately. They are distinct spheres. The gospel does not free us from obligation to civil obedience and our civil obedience does not intrude on the realm of conscience before God. For Calvin, Christian freedom is bound up with this distinction.

He recognized that Paul, in Romans 13, connected our obedience in the civil sphere to conscience. He characterized this aspect of conscience as an “additional witness” or knowledge of the divine justice which exposes our sins. In 3.19.16 he explained that our works respect men but properly our conscience “regards God.” There is a broad sense in which conscience respects the magistrate but strictly it has respect to God alone. The laws that govern civil behavior affect our conscience insofar as we regard them as being from God and we are bound to them even if there is no one else about. Nevertheless, there is an spiritual and interior aspect to conscience over which the civil sphere has no say.

What are we to make of Calvin’s twofold distinction in God’s government of the world and how does it help us think about the Mt Soledad cross? The first inference I would draw is that Calvin was manifestly concerned to protect the liberty of the Christian conscience. One of the concerns I have had about some forms of neo-Calvinism is that there seems to be a relatively low regard for Christian liberty. Having applied the adjective Christian to whatever endeavor is at hand, some neo-Calvinists seem have little patience for dissent as if it is self-evident what the Christian view of x is or must be. In that regard, we should be careful that we do not fall back into the medieval and Roman pattern of obligating fellow Christians with rules and practices that are not “good and necessary” inferences from the Word of God. Beyond the scope of the explicit teaching of Scripture and “good and necessary” consequences, Christians are free to disagree. In this is so, then I think Christians may reach different conclusions about the Mt Soledad cross. Another way to put this is to say that I doubt that we may speak of “the Christian” view of the Mt Soledad cross.

Another inference we might draw is that the ambivalence expressed in part 1 is inherent in living in these two spheres of God’s government of the world. This Christian life is a semi-eschatological existence. The consummate state, the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God, has been inaugurated in the earth and is manifested institutionally in the visible church and Christians, as citizens of that eschatological kingdom live out their Christian lives as citizens of the kingdom wherever they are, as they fulfill their vocations in this world. Nevertheless, the consummation is not yet. We live cheek-by-jowl with unbelievers who, in civil terms, have as much right co-exist in the civil sphere as we do. Thus, in civil life, we will necessarily have to make compromises that we cannot make in the spiritual sphere.

Finally, we are free to work out life in the civil sphere differently than Calvin did. Christians are free to seek to return to the Constantinian settlement but Christians are also free to dissent from the quest to return to Constantinianism. That (Constantinianism, the medieval church-state complex) is a view that Christians have held. It’s also a historical fact that it is a view that Christians did not take before the 4th century. I agree with Abraham Kuyper. Constantinianism was a mistake. It is a possible implication of Christ’s lordship over all things but it is not a necessary inference. It is exceeding difficult to make a case for it from the New Testament. The main thing the New Testament writers (and early Christian writers in the second century) wanted from the magistrate was to be left alone to worship God in peace and to serve our neighbor without interference.

When we speak of “the Christian view” of p or q, we should probably restrict that use of the adjective “Christian” to those things that we confess together as churches. Yes, the Reformed and Presbyterian churches have confessed Constantinianism but since the 18th century and since the early 20th century, most have not. It is an area where confessional folk may agree to disagree.

Under God’s government, Christians live in two spheres simultaneously. Each of those spheres has respect to different aspects of our lives. The fact that there are two spheres will always produce tensions and uncertainties, as in the case of the Mt Soledad cross. However one thinks about this and other such issues, let us be as zealous as Calvin was to preserve the sanctity of the liberty of the Christian conscience whil, at the same time, guarding against the ever-present possibility of a hyper-spiritualism or libertinism that disregards our obligations to our fellow men under the second table of God’s moral law.

Postscript
Ben Sasse is a Reformed Christian who is presently campaigning for the U. S. Senate from Nebraska. In his campaign he is not making theocratic arguments but he is arguing from the founding principles articulated in the Declaration and Constitution. This approach presents an interesting, practical and concrete contrast with the theory espoused by some that the only proper way to engage civil life is from a “transformational” perspective.

UPDATE (8 April, 2014)

Here’s the latest on the legal status of the cross.

UPDATE July 24, 2015

Here is the latest on the legal status of the Mt Soledad cross. The property has been sold to a private group, which plans to maintain the memorial. Here is the local coverage.

NOTE

1. This summary relies on the chronology provided by the San Diego Union Tribune (linked above) with supplementary information drawn from a variety of sources.