Missing Figures in the Perry Faith Two-Step: A Plea to Fellow Evangelicals

While the music started long before the hat was dropped in Charleston, the dance around the implications of Gov. Perry’s Christian faith is just entering full swing, and couples now flying around the floor can be expected to prance only more frantically until the last bar is played next November. Leon’s More Drooling Idiocy on Rick Perry’s Faith draws attention to the self-conflicted steps of some on the left, while among his commenters, aesthete does yeoman’s work at least attempting to keep the feet of those on right from tangling in inconsistency.

Distant generations of those holding the Evangelical faith bear a hearing among their nominal descendants before the floor gets more crowded. If you find yourself extremely glad that the Governor is as open as he is about his faith in Christ, and simultaneously extremely annoyed that he is getting publicly flayed about the same, it’s time to give an ear to wisdom from the past–that being both a Conservative and an Evangelical virtue!

It is probable–given the historical development of evangelicalism in America–that your biblical hermeneutic tends toward both dispensationalism and premillenialism. While I will not dispute the biblical merits or faults of those systems here, I will propose that they do not adequately equip their adherents to politically counter–without inconsistency–some of the frequent current arguments against the expression of the Christian faith by public officials. It is my hope that you the reader, if you have found it difficult to answer some of the charges highlighted in Leon’s post, take time to bone up on the Two Kingdoms model as it has been developed from Scripture in light of contemporary political realities by some of the best minds in the Reformation tradition–a tradition with which at least some of the well-honored founders of the Republic were much more conversant than many today.

While neither the purpose nor the format of this site will allow detailed theological interchange, I trust it may be fruitful to present several ways in which assumptions of the Two Kingdoms model are better equipped than those of dispensational premillenialism to confront certain types of attacks–at least for those who still hold rational persuasion among the most effective political tools.

Many dispensational-premillenial evangelicals view the American state through a lens which makes her appear, on the one hand, nearly indistinguishable from Israel between Sinai and Pentecost, and on the other, nearly indistinguishable–in theory at least–from the New Jerusalem descending out of heaven. Again, setting exegesis aside, the practical difficulties of maintaining this view are cumbersome in the political realm and lead inevitably to unanswerable charges of either inconsistency or hypcrisy.

A typical argument begins with a liberal accusing Christians of wanting to establish a Saudi-like theocracy; the evangelical responding–without really knowing why–that the Sinaitic code, while ideally to be upheld, would not be uniformly enforced; the liberal tauntingly pressing for details about whether children who refused to do their homework would be stoned; the Christian frustratingly acknowledging that the law of Christ has reduced the number and penalties of the statutes of Sinai; at which point the liberal probes “like those against homosexuality, right?”; then the Christian trots out Romans 1:24-28; only to be met with Romans 1:29-32 and the observation that, if gossips and boasters likewise deserve to die, they should be subjected to at least the same civil restrictions: why not ban gossips from marrying? and since there are so many heartless in the world who do not support the poor as commanded by Christ, why not provide a means of relief by taxation on their behalf? By this point the Christian may have begun to realize that he is on the horns of a polemical dilemma: to retort against immorality on the left is to cede hyprocrisy on the right, while to hunt for passages to counter those he has already referred puts him on the path away from rightly dividing the word of truth, treating it as only subjectively–which is to say, not at all–authoritative. At this point the probability is high that the Christian will either stomp off the dance floor or trip on his own spurs–neither outcome promoting persuasion; and given his likely Arminianism, he will be at least tempted to believe that the liberal is beyond the redemptive grasp of God in a way that he, thankfully, was not.

The Christian who has done his Two Kingdoms homework, however, can prance around a much wider and more accomodating floor. By hewing to the easily-exegeted fact that no nation on earth since Tisha B’Av–including these United States–has been in a redemptive covenant with the God who thundered at Sinai, he is able to answer the fearful liberal’s taunts with much more grace. Theocracy? No–that will not be repeated, the Prophet-Priest-King, to whom the entire ceremonial and civil economies of Israel pointed, having come and fulfilled all righteousness once for all time. This Christian will take pains to distinguish between the moral law as imprinted on humanity at creation and the particular stipulations of Sinai for Israel alone, the “church under age”. He will believe that the former is knowable by all–including the atheist liberal with whom he is conversing–and thus be able to fully acknowledge, rather than feel forced to defend or redefine–or worse, lie about–every accurate charge made by his antagonist. To paraphrase Luther, the fastest way to end an accusatory barrage by Satan is to agree with every charge, and then refer him to Christ who has paid for even more of one’s sins than were just mentioned. While the interlocutor may not be immediately persuaded to vote Republican, he will at least know that all who do so are not hypocrites or inconsistent, merely sinners like himself. And who knows? Maybe the strangeness of that encounter could lead to others in which a piece of radically Good News–of more import than even last Saturday’s announcement–could be proclaimed.

Dance on!

As always, the good folks at The White Horse Inn have one of the best places to start for getting a handle on the classic doctrines of the Reformation. The broadcasts Applying God’s Law and Wisdom for Life and the Cross of Christ are among many intelligent, insightful, biblical and stimulating discussions which touch this on topic.