Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Escondido Theology Chapter 7

Chapter 7 is a review of A Secular Faith by D.G. Hart. Hart is of course one who often gives as good as he gets, so one might could expect some fireworks. I am not a fan of this new type of communication where the one with the sharpest barb wins, but perhaps it is just because I am not so good at it.

Frame does make an odd attack at the beginning where he points out derogatorily that the Escondido group is mostly historians. He does not explain why this is awful, but clearly implies it. It is even stranger because Frame admits the book is an excellent history book.

Hart's book hits on the most upsetting aspect of 2K theology to most people: politics. Hart states "that the basic teachings of Christianity are virtually useless in solving America's political disputes" (Hart pg. 11). Although he does admit influence from the church on society but one that is mostly "indirect and unintentional" (pg. 233). Frame obviously takes issue with such an idea and especially the idea that this is the historic reformed position. It fits with Frame's absolutizing accusation against the Escondido theologians. Frame further complains when Hart allows for implications and motivations taken from Scripture for secular activities, which is apparently different from teachings or commands. This Frame rightly points out would make it hard to enforce if it truly is the only acceptable position when you are dealing with implications and motivations.

The interesting part of Frame's critique comes in interacting with Hart on the Biblical text especially in John. John 18:36 where Jesus says that HIs kingdom is not of this world is the first major battle ground. Hart takes this as evidence that Christ's kingdom is indeed different from the secular political kingdom since he is saying it to Pilate, a Roman official. Frame counters with counting up the references to "world" in John chapters 14-18, which he totals at 43. Most refer to the earthly physical realm, not politics. Frame then argues that Jesus is saying that the Kingdom is from the Father above the earthly realm rather than Hart's assertion that the kingdom is of a different character entirely. The reading and understanding of this verse has great implications for other places in John such as 15:19 and 17:16 where the disciples are said to be "not of the world". Does this mean the disciples are to be of another character entirely or are they from the Father above. Can you see the difference now of Frame's Transformationalism? The kingdom is not of a different nature, it is just from a different origin. Hart would rather it be of a different nature than the human politics and human power. Frame goes on to discuss the Kingdom coming to earth in places like Luke 17:21, where it is said to be amidst them already. For Frame this kingdom coming to earth is simply coming from the Father, but can come in the same manner as an earthly kingdom. It is not different in its nature, only its source. Thus, Christian political parties are a good thing because they help usher in the kingdom. Christian labor unions can be good because they too bring the Kingdom of God from the Father. Hart sees unions and governments as not instruments capable of bringing the Kingdom because the Kingdom of God is not of the same nature as earthly kingdoms. It comes about through foolishness of preaching and through the power of the Suffering Servant. They end up being wildly different.

The second biblical discussion is about "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" in Matthew 22:21 and Luke 20:25. Hart sees this verse as a 2K separation. Caesar is a pagan and yet his government is legitimate and to be lived under and submitted to even in taxes, an odious thing. Frame thinks the passage teaches rather that God is the ultimate ruler of everything and has simply granted Caesar some of it for a time and that is why he is to be submitted to at all. In fact, Frame points out that simply because it might be legitimate does not mean that is the ideal way to live. In other words, Frame is saying that Jesus's silence about transforming the government to a Christian one means nothing, but Hart is saying Jesus is silent, and it means everything. For why would Jesus be silent if he meant for us to try and transform the government?

One other part that needs to be noted is that Hart does state the Bible is the guide only for "church life" and politics is supposed to be guided by "reason and prudence". Frame attacks this as a reduction of Christ's sovereignty and Bible's place in a Christians life. And I have to say here I agree with Frame. It is hard to read II Timothy 3:16-17 as a guide only for church life.

But Hart is militating against the use of Scripture for a particular political stance, and really what Biblical text can you point to for a program of reducing taxes? What about opposing Social Security? Or supporting it? Hart in fact points out that Christianity is an intolerant exclusive religion, how then can it support a government that is tolerant of differing faiths if transformationalism is true? And here I think Hart is right. Frame of course disagrees and actually says "I do in fact believe that in a general sense government should be theocratic. . . . [acknowledging] Jesus Christ as king of kings." (Frame pg.265). And there you have the main difference. I think it comes back to Hart's "implications and motivations". But we ought to be able to fellowship with someone who has a different political opinion than we do. I am not sure Frame' view allows for such things. Churches ought to be all of the same political persuasion, the Christian political one.

This chapter was very good for the biblical arguments, but I think Frame goes to far afield when he advocates government spreading the Kingdom of Christ.