12 May 2013

Political-Theological Musings

I've taken a shot at D.G. Hart's two-kingdom ideology at least once. But his blog post here, which asserts that even contemporary Roman Catholics espouse something like a two-kingdoms approach to political theology, is worth a read. You can find my best takes on the subject of political theology here (God's Bridle: John Calvin's Application of Natural Law) and here (Looking for Bedrock: Accounting for Human Rights in Classical Liberalism, Modern Secularism, and the Christian Tradition). One might find a less academic expression in my post here (Christianity: Ground of Secularity?).

Perhaps I can use a metaphor from constitutional law to express my point. The difference between ecclesiastical and political theology can be compared to express and field preemption. Whenever the federal government enacts a statute that expressly provides it trumps relevant state law, it does. However, it's up to the courts to decide what to do whenever the federal statute is silent on its relationship to state law. It might be that the federal and state statutes can both be applied. Obviously, if they conflict, so much the worse for the state law but the middle ground is where we find the action. If the courts conclude that Congress has legislated so pervasively then even state laws that don't contradict the federal statute are subject to "field preemption" and unenforceable

The courts have developed a variety of so-called tests to decide when Congress has legislated so pervasively as to occupy an entire "field" of law but suffice it to safe their standards do not lead to predicable results.

The final legal "space" is occupied by state statutes alone, situations where the federal government has chosen not to act. (An ever-decreasing space, by the way.)

Nowhere do I read the Bible to expressly preempt even the field of ecclesiology. (Sure, some folks do, but I don't.) However, it can be cogently argued that the Scriptures so occupy the field of the doctrine of the church and its worship that there is virtually no remainder. Field preemption, in other words.

Not so with respect to the realm of civil government. Not only do the Christian Scriptures not state expressly that they provide the sole basis upon which to formulate the rules of civil government, they cannot plausibly be read to so occupy the field of political theology that nothing is left for human ingenuity (or folly). While there are some specifics beyond which civil government may not go (commanding what God forbids or forbidding what God commands), these are relatively few.

It is this space, where the Scriptures do not speak, that is what I call "secularity." It's not secularism, which holds there no room for appeals to the transcendent, but only a space free until the end of time from direct biblical prescription. It's not a "kingdom" independent of God's rule but it is an large area of life over which Christians qua Christians can legitimately disagree and within which Christians and non-Christians can cooperate in good conscience.

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