Tuesday, May 03, 2011

An Example of the Exegetical Blunders of Horton's View of the Two Kingdoms

Prof. Michael Horton has an article entitled, "The Death of Osama bin Ladin: What Kind of Justice Has Been Done?" Horton takes the occasion of bin Ladin's death as a chance to attempt to propagate his unhistorical view of the two kingdoms. I don't mean to suggest that the idea of two kingdoms is not historical. What I am suggesting is that the view of the two kingdoms that one sees from Escondido today is a view contrary to that of all the original Reformed confessions (at least, all the major ones, and particularly the big two: the Belgic Confession and the Westminster Confession). More importantly, it is contrary to Scripture, Natural Law, and sound reason.

This attack on the historic Reformed faith is bolstered by extremely tenuous "exegesis" of Scripture. I am using quotation marks, because I think the label is generous to a fault. Perhaps a more accurate assessment would be "prooftexting." Here's Horton's argument:
Cultures are the most dangerous when they invoke holy texts for their defense of holy land through holy war. However, Christians have no biblical basis for doing this in the first place. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly abrogated the ceremonial and civil law that God had given uniquely to the nation of Israel. Now is the era of common grace and common land, obeying rulers—even pagan ones—and living under constitutions other than the one that God gave through Moses. As Paul reminds us in Romans 13, secular rulers are given the power of the temporal sword—finite justice—while the gospel conquers in the power of the Spirit through that Word "above all earthly pow'rs."
Notice the techniques that Horton uses. Horton makes an emotional appeal to a threat of danger. Yet the most dangerous cultures of the 20th century were Communist Russia and Communist China, neither of which invoked holy text for their defense of holy land through holy war. Israel, by contrast, in the same century invoked holy text for their defense of holy land through holy war. Whether one favors them or not, their six day war was one of the least bloody wars of the century (total causalities apparently less than 50,000).

Horton's next statement about Christians having no biblical basis for defending holy land through holy war on the basis of holy text is unclear. There are various things he could mean. If he simply means that there is no "promised land" for Christians in this world (instead, we wait for the next world), he is correct. If, on the other hand, he means that the Bible cannot justify the defense of Christian lands (lands occupied by Christians), he's mistaken.

Where Horton blunders is his next line: "In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly abrogated the ceremonial and civil law that God had given uniquely to the nation of Israel." I realize Horton threw his "clearly" in there as a way of pounding on the lectern at this particularly weak point in his article. Nevertheless, no - the Sermon on the Mount does not abrogate either the civil or the ceremonial law.

I am hesitant to paste all three chapters of the sermon here. Perhaps it suffices to illustrate the point to quote the following:

Matthew 5:17-18
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

Does Horton think that Heaven and Earth had already passed at that time? Surely not. Even though the ceremonial law would later be abrogated, it was not yet abrogated at this time. How can we know? Well, in chapter 8 (immediately after the conclusion of the sermon) Jesus instructs an ex-leper to follow the ceremonial law:

Matthew 8:4 And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.

Moreover we know that Jesus kept the passover.

Matthew 26:18 And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples.

Need I go on?

The clean/unclean distinctions of the ceremonial law were abrogated by a vision given to Peter. Recall:

Acts 10:28 And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.

It was not, therefore, abrogated in the sermon on the mount, as Horton alleged.

Moreover, the civil law of Israel continued to be in force until Jerusalem was destroyed. Jesus himself commanded his disciples that they should obey the Sanhedrin, justifying that command on the basis that they "sit in the seat of Moses," that is, they occupy the role of legislators.

So, neither was the civil law abrogated at the Sermon on the Mount nor even by the cross itself.

Indeed, we distinguish (in Reformed theology) between the abrogation of the ceremonial law (which was fulfilled in Christ), and the expiration of the civil law (which was appointed specifically for the nation of Israel, and which was, as a nation, destroyed though a remnant was spared). Moreover, unlike the ceremonial law, the general equity of the civil law endures. That is because Justice is one of God's attributes: and the laws of Israel were just laws given by a just God.

Horton continued his blunders this way: "Now is the era of common grace and common land, obeying rulers—even pagan ones—and living under constitutions other than the one that God gave through Moses." If we are to understand by "common grace" what has been always understood by that term, God sending the rain upon the just and the unjust, then every time period has been the era of common grace. If by "common land," Horton means that we Gentiles don't have a specific land grant from God, that too has always been the case. If Horton means that we today live with unbelievers amongst us, that too has always been the case.

Except where obeying pagan rulers involved disobeying God, the people of God have always obeyed pagan rulers when pagan rulers were over them. Recall Daniel and Jeremiah as examples of this in the Old Testament - or Jesus himself in the New Testament.

The law of Moses didn't actually constitute the civil kingdom of Israel. There were elders of Israel before Moses, there were elders during the time of Moses, and there continued to be elders even during the times of the kings.

Nevertheless, the law of Moses did order the civil laws of Israel in accordance with the principles of justice and equity. The laws of Moses had, in theory, supreme power like the U.S. Constitution is supposed to have. However, both before and after Christ the people of God have often found themselves under regimes in which the law of God was not honored by the monarchs, elders, or people. That is true both of regimes in which the law of God was honored with the lips of the rulers, and also in regimes in which it did not even receive lip service.

Horton concludes (this particular paragraph) with: "As Paul reminds us in Romans 13, secular rulers are given the power of the temporal sword—finite justice—while the gospel conquers in the power of the Spirit through that Word 'above all earthly pow'rs.'" Paul doesn't specify that the powers are "secular." Paul says

Romans 13:1-7
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

Notice that Paul calls the powers that be "of God" and "ordained of God" and repeatedly calls the ruler "the minster of God" and "God's ministers." Their duties are not the duties of the ministers of the gospel, but they are still ministers of God. There remains an intimate connection between theology and the civil magistrate, therefore. Their laws are called the "ordinance of God," even their very unpleasant tax laws.

Is their power finite? Of course it is. None of God's ministers (neither ministers of justice nor ministers of the gospel) have infinite power. Yet both are - or ought to be - servants of the same God, aiding the people in a complementary way.

Horton goes on in the article (be sure to click through to page 2 - page 3 is just bio) to actually quote from Romans 13. Horton writes:
First, it means that we can rejoice that even in this present evil age, God's common grace and common justice are being displayed through secular authorities. "For [the ruler] is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. … 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" (Rom. 13:4, 7). Yet the divine wrath that rulers execute is temporal and finite rather than eternal and infinite. Such justice is never so pure that it is unmingled with injustice, never so final that it satisfies God's eternal law.
There is, of course, no need to qualify God's justice as "common." We only qualify "common grace" that way to distinguish it from saving grace. God's justice is one of His eternal attributes, as Horton ought to know:

Westminster Shorter Catechism
Q. 4. What is God?
A. God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

Westminster Larger Catechism
Q. 7. What is God?
A. God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, every where present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.

Horton even has the temerity to quote from Calvin (whose view of the two kingdoms is incompatible with Horton's):
In view of the image of God stamped on every person, justice must always be tempered by love. Commenting on Genesis 9:6, John Calvin reminded us that we cannot hate even our most perverse enemies, because of the image of God in them. In one sense, the creation of every person in God's image provokes the temporal sword against murderers. Yet in another sense, it also restrains our lust for revenge. "Should any one object, that this divine image has been obliterated, the solution is easy; first, there yet exists some remnant of it, so that man is possessed of no small dignity; and, secondly, the Celestial Creator himself, however corrupted man may be, still keeps in view the end of his original creation; and according to his example, we ought to consider for what end he created men, and what excellence he has bestowed upon them above the rest of living beings."
Notice that this deals with issues related to our personal vindication. But for most of us, Osama was not our personal enemy. He did not burn down our houses, kill our loved ones, or even badmouth us on a blog. Instead, Osama was an enemy of Christian nations, of Christians, and of Christ. He was God's enemy. While I would have rejoiced even more to see Osama converted, I rightly rejoice in seeing God's justice meted out by the servants of God - the ministers of His wrath.

After a brief appeal to Ezekiel (which I have substantially answered already), Horton makes a comment that we ought urgently fulfill the mandate to preach the gospel. I agree! (For that matter, I agree with lots of things that Horton says. I just don't agree with his promotion of his two kingdoms view in contrast to Calvin's two kingdoms view. That doesn't mean I consider Horton a heretic, but rather a brother in Christ with whom I sharply disagree on a particular point.)

Horton concludes:
So as we take satisfaction in the honorable service of U.S. forces in bringing a terrorist to justice in the court of the temporal city, let us never dare to confuse this with "the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (Heb. 11:10). In our response, let us use this opportunity to display to our non-Christian neighbors the radical contrasts between the biblical view of God, humanity, redemption, and the last judgment, and the religious and secularist distortions—even those that profess to be Christian.
I have two issues with this. First, he's laying on the metaphors a little thick. The SEALs did bring this terrorist leader to justice. It is justice in God's eyes, for God declared:

Genesis 9:6 Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.

There is no need to qualify this justice in terms of "the temporal city," but we cannot really object to him saying that, for this life is indeed temporal. We must point out, however, that this justice is exactly the same in substance as the justice meted out by the law of Moses. Those who died for murder under the law of Moses may have died in a different mode (stoning rather than being shot in the head), but the punishment they received was the same: physical death.

This justice was not meted out in court. It was meted out in the field. Obviously, I think Horton meant that metaphorically. Nevertheless, in this kind of context, those metaphors can tend to have the effect of confusing rather than enlightening.

That confusion seems to be compounded by Horton's reference to the city whose builder and maker is God. That city is heaven. Surely Horton does not seriously worry that people will think that this present life is heaven. Instead, it appears that Horton is trying to position the city whose builder and maker is God as being a "here and now" thing that could be confused with the "secular" world. Yet Horton's position is undermined by the very text he quotes.

After all, Abraham is described this way:

Hebrew 11:9-10
By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

Abraham was not looking for something "here and now" but something "not yet." Abraham was looking forward - on this point - to heaven itself. He was a pilgrim on the earth, as are we. There is a continuity, not a discontinuity, between us and Abraham on this point.

Indeed, Scripture itself declares:

Hebrews 11:16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

And Jesus testified:

John 14:2-3
In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

Finally, let me touch on Horton's concluding sentence:
In our response, let us use this opportunity to display to our non-Christian neighbors the radical contrasts between the biblical view of God, humanity, redemption, and the last judgment, and the religious and secularist distortions—even those that profess to be Christian.
This statement is ambiguously worded, so that is not clear who it is Horton views as merely professing Christians. Horton's main opponents with respect to these points would seem to be Evangelicals, either modern (who perhaps have simply gotten caught up in the fever of patriotism) or historic (who reject on Biblical grounds Horton's view of the two kingdoms). If Horton is calling those groups merely professing Christian, this is quite troubling. If not, it is unclear who Horton thinks might be disagreeing with him.

Of course, ambiguity is not a crime. Nevertheless, it would be helpful if Horton could be more specific about who he doesn't view as his Christian brother. Despite my principled disagreement with his departure from the historic Reformed position, I still consider Horton a brother in Christ. I hope he feels the same way.

-TurretinFan

12 comments:

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"That doesn't mean I consider Horton a heretic, but rather a brother in Christ with whom I sharply disagree on a particular point."

Thank you.

David Lowman said...

It's like this odd Dispensationalism infecting Reformed Theology in Escondido, starting with Kline and continuing with Horton, Godfrey and the rest

natamllc said...

Wow, TF, what a substantive response!

For me, the strongest sentence of this whole article, which in light of the rest of the article, becomes the most prophetic sentence I have read in awhile from anyone, is this one:

"...There is a continuity, not a discontinuity, between us and Abraham on this point."

I have been pondering Jesus' great prayer He prayed as recorded by John in his Gospel record, John 17 and particularly these Words:

Joh 17:11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.
Joh 17:12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
Joh 17:13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.

...

Joh 17:24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
Joh 17:25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me.
Joh 17:26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."


What are the things we come to understand about our father Abraham? He sojourned around the land of Canaan and built altars to the Lord and he continually "called upon the Name of the Lord".

Both Isaac and Jacob came face to face with the God of Abraham.

As Jacob was coming back from his Uncle's lands, where his mother came from, he came back to that place where he first had the dream and this time he finds himself back in the camp of the Angels of God face to face with that particular Angel who he wrestles with all night, who blesses him before dawn.

There is only one appointed to bring about continuity between Abraham's children, as the dust of the earth and as the stars of the heavens and His Name is Jesus.

It is Jesus Whom God has appointed to reveal to us His Names!

The unity and continuity comes by this phenomenon of Christ revealing His Father's Names to His own by the Spirit's sanctification power uniting us in the common salvation by the Faith once delivered to the Saints!

Anyway, off I go again hopping down this trail because of this substantive article where you are responding to Horton's view on the two kingdoms and that sentence.

Also it is to be noted that it is good to see healthy men come out the way you do and articulate the matter while holding to the brotherhood of the Saints. This kind of maturity is very much in need these days, especially as more and more dialogue happens around the world over the internet system that has become a kind of pseudo continuity of this new age!

ChaferDTS said...

"It's like this odd Dispensationalism infecting Reformed Theology in Escondido, starting with Kline and continuing with Horton, Godfrey and the rest "

That is unfair to link dispensationalism with Horton, Godfrey and whoever when they are not dispensational. That really amounts to guilt by assocation. The issue goes beyond the Dispensational verses Covenant Theology issue since the men you listed are not dispensational. From what I read and heard some have tried linking the two kingdoms issue with Lutherans. I am sitting back and try and see what is being said by those who hold to what is termed two kingdom theology. Right now I am not sure on what exactly do they mean by that . It is hard trying to find a good defintion of their exact beliefs or what is considered their essential beliefs.

Turretinfan said...

ChaferDTS:

I hope that the commenter is simply pointing out a similarity of hermeneutic between the dispensationals and the Escondido folks.

Guilt by association would be saying that Horton is no longer Reformed, just because we have a photo of him hugging Rick Warren.

But I hear what you're saying. There is a difference between dispensationalism and the Escondido approach. Nevertheless, the emphasis on significant discontinuity is similar.

ChaferDTS said...

"I hope that the commenter is simply pointing out a similarity of hermeneutic between the dispensationals and the Escondido folks."

I hope so as well and nothing beyond that.

"Guilt by association would be saying that Horton is no longer Reformed, just because we have a photo of him hugging Rick Warren. "

I saw a picture of John Mac Arthur in a photo with RC Sproul with other Covenant theologians. :) Yet I dont think any of the men in the picture changed their system of beliefs :)

" But I hear what you're saying. There is a difference between dispensationalism and the Escondido approach. Nevertheless, the emphasis on significant discontinuity is similar. "

Thank you . :) Is the two Kingdoms debate along the lines of the law and Gospel issue ? If it is, then I have books already from all sides on the Law and Gospel issue. I want to make sure on what exactly is involved. Would you know where I could get additional information about this issue ?

louis said...

It has much to do with their view of the Mosaic covenant and its relation to the covenant of grace. A great resource on that topic can be found here: http://sites.google.com/site/themosaiccovenant/

Jonathan said...

TurretinFan,

I'm in the process of reading DVD's "Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms" right now. It's basically a history of 2K theology (focused in the Reformed tradition).

Are you familiar with this work? If so, do you think DVD's history is revisionist or accurate? If revisionist, do you know of any work on the topic that is more accurate?

The Puritan said...

Really, I just see this as a predictable knee jerk response from Horton to moralize and be holier than thou and pious and all that.

Also (and all bloggers engage in this to a degree, but some people make it their entire thing) he, Clark, and Hart, I have kidded Hart on this, have a formula: "Enough about that thing that is wrong, let me tell you about something else that is wrong." And this big news story was just too tempting for Horton to hold back.

There's no doctrine here. It is just a moralist (who thinks he's not a moralist) indulging some moralizing, setting himself above other lesser 'Christians' (were all those crowds in New York and in front of the White House Christians? Really?) and getting his little kick in the process.

Reformed academics, also, are 'liberals'. They just are. They have all the knee jerk tendencies. I mean, when it comes down to it. They'll deny it, and there is degree involved, but my experience with them is they are academics first and as such have the usual fear of man that controls those environments.

Let me tell you why people (the crowd types among us anyway) were [surprisingly] patriotic and enthusiastic in celebrating the death of bin Laden: because bin Laden had a particularly large Satanic presence and signature in this present conflict with these Satanic lunatics the world over. It really did matter to take him down. He had protection from the Devil, and taking him out shows the strength of the Devil has been lessened.

I write not as one who wants to see Satan roll big time so that the world can end. That will happen when it happens. I write as one who makes plans for the future, while being watchful for everything, and wanting freedom to be defended all the while.

Turretinfan said...

Jonathan:

I looked through that book (in vain) for a positive argument for DVD's own position.

I'm hesitant to call the book "revisionist" without having any specific examples ready to establish such an assertion.

My main complaint about the book is that it appears to be a polemical book that is presented as an historical work. It does not, from what I can see, attempt to present "two sides" and explain why one is better.

Perhaps, however, you can find some examples of where DvD argues for his position or where he contrasts the two sides and explains why his side should be correct.

It may simply be that I have overlooked it.

-TurretinFan

Jonathan said...

TurretinFan,

At this point in my reading (about half-way through), it looks like VanDrunen does a good, fair job.

He does draw out the fact that Calvin's idea of the two kingdoms did not secularize the temporal kingdom in the same way modern advocates (e.g. Darryl Hart) believe it should. At least, that is my own interpretation.

VanDrunen notes that:

"...Calvin explains, the church may 'assist the magistrate in diminishing the number of [civil] offenders' and the two can 'combine their efforts' so as to be 'a help to the other.' There is also clear evidence in Calvin's writings of his support for magisterial involvement in seemingly religious matters.' … Calvin writes that among the duties of civil government are 'to foster and maintain the external worship of God, to defend sound doctrine and the condition of the Church,' to ensure that 'a public form of religion may exist among Christians,' and 'to prevent the true religion, which is contained in the law of God, from being with impunity openly violated and polluted by public blasphemy.'" (p. 86)

This is consistent with the way later Reformed orthodox interpreted the two kingdoms. Though, according to DVD, they believed natural law was the basis for civil law in the temporal kingdom, they "acknowledge a relevance of the Mosaic civil law for contemporary civil law insofar as the former reflected the law of nature. This perspective, of course, corresponds closely to the idea that natural law is the standard for contemporary civil law…. [Turretin] writes: 'The forensic [civil] law may be viewed either formally, as it was enacted for the Jews (and so is abrogated); or materially, inasmuch as it agrees with the natural law and is founded on it (and thus it still remains).'" (p. 167)

As far as DVD's own views, I also haven't seen him lay out his own position much. However, he does make it clear that he believes there are "certain tensions" and maybe even "contradictions" (211) in Reformed thought, running through Calvin to Reformed orthodoxy (so far as I've read). Some of these he thinks can be reconciled with the Reformers' thought(e.g. in that the Decalogue was believed to be a summarization of natural law and by understanding statecraft as soulcraft) but some remain.

For instance, he notes that "Reformed orthodox writers often used the external/internal distinction to confine magistrates' religious duties within two kingdoms bounds" but asks "...is it coherent to differentiate secular and ecclesiastical (and thereby identify where the kingdom of Christ is and is not) by means of a distinction that in turn differentiates aspects of the ecclesiastical realm itself and opens a fairly wide door for magistrates' involvement? … Are such distinctions [between external and internal and body and soul]helpful and do they in fact capture what Reformed orthodox theology was seeking to capture by its two kingdoms doctrine?"
(p. 204)

But this doesn't look like a major error to me (such that, for example, resolving it would require adopting Hart's ideas on 2K) and, thus far, I haven't picked up on any serious criticism of their (Calvin et al) 2K views per se. I certainly haven't seen a *contradiction* demonstrated (maybe I missed it).

Jonathan said...

I should clarify two things:

1. My page numbers are taken from the Kindle edition of the book. So they may be a little inaccurate since Kindle doesn't tell you exactly where one page stops and the next one begins.

2. When I said "He does draw out the fact that Calvin's idea of the two kingdoms did not secularize the temporal kingdom in the same way modern advocates (e.g. Darryl Hart) believe it should. At least, that is my own interpretation."

I would further clarify that DVD doesn't (or hasn't up to this point in my reading) even mention Hart and I don't mean to imply that anything he says was intended to communicate the idea that Hart or any other contemporary 2K views are more "secular" than earlier views.