Monday, January 17, 2005

I was thinking in the shower today (I wonder how much of my thinking I do in there), a not very original thought, I'm sure, i.e. that our minds are like soup pots. Each idea/flavor we add in is going to react to whatever else is already in there. Some ingredients probably won't do well until others have been already established. If your first ingredient in your soup is pepper, it won't be very palatable for a while. Things need to be balanced out.

I was thinking this regarding how my views of politics and religion have been formed and changed since college. Due to the influence of certain people I won't name, I came to read a lot of literature associated with a movement referred to as "theonomy" during and immediately after college. The general gist of this movement is that Jesus (and Paul) affirmed a continuing role for the OT law, not just at the individual level, but also for society widely. Greg Bahnsen set out the most systemic exegetical foundation for this in his book Theonomy and Christian Ethics, basing much of his case on his reading of Matt 5:17-20. The movement died a slow death, I suppose, throughout the '90's, facing both internal and external problems and criticisms.

Certain writers of this movement, the most prolific being Gary North, tried to take a thorough going look at the OT and make some effort to find applications of the particularities of the various laws to contemporary society. Those of a generally antinomian mindset found this patently ridiculous, but I always thought this was a worthwhile exercise, at least in principle. North himself always chided his critics that if they didn't like his work, they should go do thier own homework and present a rival vision.

I had put this subject on the back burner (or do I have to put the whole pot on the back burner?) to try to read more widely. Then I ran into (like a brick wall) the work of Stan Hauerwas. It's more than I can handle here to lay out Stanley's positions on politics, especially as he is everything except systematic in his writings. Much of what he said, though, had odd echoes of what the theonomists lad also said. He wrote in defense of casuistry (the close reading and application of texts), sharply and mercilessly criticized pluralism and liberalism, and even seems to think highly of John Calvin. Yet so much was strikingly different as well. For one thing, Hauerwas' intended audience seems to be the mainstream, liberal academic and religious community rather than the conservative, fundamentalist and reformed communities addressed by the theonomists. More at the heart of things, though, Hauerwas criticized the view of power and violence which have become foundations of our way of life in America.

Following the work of John Howard Yoder, Hauerwas feels that be be a Christian means to follow the example of Jesus, and the example of Jesus was to eschew violence in favor of suffering and martyrdom in the face of evil. Also Hauerwas focused on how the church is an alternative politics to the politics of power and violence which the state always seems to represent. I could go on, but perhaps that's a close enough summary.

Anyhow, I picked up a book which had been sitting unread on my shelf for a very long time, God and Politics: Four Views on the Reformation of Civil Government. The four views style themselves "Theonomy", "Principled Pluralism", "Christian America", and "National Confessionalism". I'm only half through at the moment, but it seems thus far that each position is well within the reformed/puritan tradition of emphasizing a positive view of OT law in political analysis. Their differences, to this point, are not really radical ones.

While I don't know what I would have made of this book had I read it ten or fifteen years ago, I suspect I would have seen Bahnsen (theonomy) as the "good guy" and the others as wrong insofar as they diverged from him. At this point I find myself thinking that none of them have come to terms fully with the question of why a "christian" view of politics should focus on America.

Sorry for the rambling, long winded nature of this. If I was more systematic I would have thrown in lots of relevant quotes and made this into a good 15 page paper, so be thankful its as short as it is.

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