Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Why was it the Son who became incarnate?

“Because the Mediator must be God, redemption requires that one of the three persons becomes the Mediator (and thus the God-man, with two wills)” (Mark Jones). Why was it the Son who became incarnate and not the Father or the Holy Spirit?

David Kirk notes that ‘while the creation is a work of the whole Trinity…it also stands in a peculiar relation to the Son’ (citing Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:423).
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made… (John 1:1-3 ESV)
The Logos becomes flesh because he is the one through whom and for whom all things were made (Colossians 1:16). The world, made through the Son, is to be saved through the Son:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17 ESV)
Mark Jones offers the following reasons (my headings and combining the last two reasons):

(1) The title "Son" for one person of the Trinity only
The Son of God is, by virtue of his title, more appropriately the Son of Man and the Son of a woman. In other words, it was not “fit” that in the Trinity there should be two persons who both bear the title of “Son,” which would have been the case had the Father become incarnate.
Turretin argued that the Holy Spirit, for example, could not be sent to be Mediator because “there would have been two sons, the second person by eternal generation and the third by an incarnation in time.”
(2) The Son is the middle person within the Trinity
the Son, as the “middle person” bears the best resemblance of the work as Mediator. He comes between us and God.
Turretin argues that “he who is between the Father and the Holy Spirit should be Mediator between God and men.”
 (3) Adoption as sons of God is the aim of salvation
The Son is peculiarly fitted to be Mediator since, according to Thomas Goodwin, “the main end of his being Mediator,” that is, the adoption of his people into the family of God, is “made one of the greatest benefits of all others” (Eph. 1:5).

The Son is the most suitable person to convey this soteric blessing insofar that as a Son Christ conveys sonship upon his people by virtue of his union with them (Gal. 4:4-5).

Again, in similar fashion, Turretin argues that it was fitting that “he who was a Son by nature should make us adoptive sons by grace.” Besides Trinitarian reasons, soteric factors – i.e. the doctrine of adoption – explain why the Son should be Mediator.
(4) The offices of priest, prophet, and king are most apt for the Son
Regarding the office of priest, it is the birth-right of the eldest Son in the family to be the priest. Therefore, to prove he was a Priest (Heb. 5), the author cites Psalm 2: “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” As an intercessory priest the Son is uniquely able to approach the Father, which is a function grounded both in ontology (i.e. their natural subsistence) and economy (Christ’s work of mediation).

As a prophet, the Son is especially fit to be Mediator because he is the Word and Wisdom of the Father (Heb. 1:1; Jn. 1:18).

As a King, there is none so fit as the heir, “none so fit to have all Judgment and the Kingdom committed to him as God’s Son” (Goodwin).
[The last paragraph is an assertion rather than an argument. The argument may be in the first paragraph, given that the citation of Psalm 2 is more apt for kingship than priesthood. Priesthood and kingship are of course combined in Melchizedek, cf. Psalm 110.] 

Hermann Witsius Florilegium

Mark Jones draws attention to The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man by Hermann Witsius (1636-1708), from which I make a note of the following:

The Scriptures represent the Father, in the economy of our salvation, as demanding the obedience of the Son even unto death, and, upon condition of that obedience, promising him in his turn that name which is above every name, even that he should be the head of the elect in glory; but the Son, as presenting himself to do the will of the Father, acquiescing in that promise, and in fine, requiring by virtue of the compact, the kingdom and glory promised to him. When we have clearly demonstrated all these particulars from Scripture, it cannot, on any pretence, be denied, that there is a compact between the Father and the Son, which is the foundation of our salvation. (2.2.2)

I consider three periods, as it were, of this covenant. Its commencement was in the eternal counsel of the adorable Trinity: in which the Son of God was constituted by the Father, with the approbation of the Holy Spirit, the Saviour of mankind; on this condition, that, in the fulness of time, he should be made of a woman, and made under the law; which the Son undertook to perform. (2.3.2)

The second period of this covenant I place in that intercession of Christ, by which, immediately upon the fall of man, he offered himself to God, now offended, in order actually to perform those things to which he had engaged himself from eternity; saying, thou hast given them to me, and I will make satisfaction for them: and so he made way for the word of grace to be declared to, and the covenant of grace to be made with them. (2.3.3)

The third period of this covenant is that, when, on his assuming human nature, he suffered his ears to be bored; compare Ps. 40:7, with Heb. 10:5; that is, engaged himself as a voluntary servant to God, from love to his Lord the Father, and to his spouse the church, and his spiritual children (for the ears of such voluntary servants were bored, Ex. 21:5, 6), was "made under the law," Gal. 4:4, by subjecting himself to the law: which he solemnly testified by his circumcision on the eighth day after his birth, whereby he made himself "a debtor to do the whole law," Gal. 5:3. (2.3.4)

The Son, as God, neither was, nor could be subject to any law, to any superior; that being contrary to the nature of Godhead, which we now suppose the Son to have in common with the Father. "He thought it no robbery to be equal with God." No subjection, nothing but the highest super-eminence, can be conceived of the Deity. In this respect he is "King of kings, and Lord of lords." 1 Tim. 6:15. The emperors Gratian, Valentine, and Theodosius said, long ago, that "he is a true Christian, who believes that the Deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is one in equal power; that, under the same majesty, there is one Deity; and he who teaches the contrary is a heretic;" (2.3.6)

Nor is it any objection against this, that the Son, from eternity, undertook for men, and thereby came under a certain peculiar relation to those that were to be saved. For, as that engagement was nothing but the most glorious act of the divine will of the Son, doing what none but God could do, it implies therefore no manner of subjection: it only imports that there should be a time when that divine person, on assuming flesh, would appear in the form of a servant. And by undertaking to perform this obedience, in the human nature, in its proper time, the Son, as God, did no more subject himself to the Father, than the Father with respect to the Son, to the owing that reward of debt, which he promised him a right to claim. All these things are to be conceived of in a manner becoming God. (2.3.7)

But since in Christ, as Mediator, there is an union of the divine and human natures, this difficulty remains to be discussed, whether both natures were in some measure subject to the law. We may easily affirm this of the human, as we have already so often shown; but it seems, from what we have confirmed [2.3.6], it must be denied with respect to the divine. However, as the human nature does not, without the divine, complete the person of the Mediator, it does not appear that the Mediator, as such, did not engage to be subject to the law, without bringing his divine nature likewise to share in that subjection. (2.3.16)

In order to remove this difficulty, we are accurately to distinguish between both natures, considered separately, and the same natures united in the person of God-man. It was proper, that both natures should act suitably to themselves and their distinct properties. Since the divine nature, as subsisting in the Son, could not truly and really be subject; therefore, by virtue of the covenant, it did not exert or display all its majesty, in the assumed form of a servant; nor hinder that nature, to which it was united by the hypostatical union, from being truly subject to the law, both as to the condition of the reward, and as to the penal sanction; which, indeed, was neither a real renunciation nor degradation of the divine superiority, but only a certain economical veiling of it for a time. (2.3.17)

We commonly ascribe to the person, God-man, the relation of an inferior to a superior, by a constitution or appointment; that, both by doing and suffering, those things might be accomplished, according to the condition of each nature, which were requisite to our salvation: so that the very obedience and sufferings themselves, are not only to be appropriated to the human nature, but to be considered as truly performed and suffered by the God-man. If this were not the case, they would not be of infinite value and dignity, nor sufficient for our redemption. Hence he, who is "in the form of God," is said to have "made himself of no reputation, and became obedient unto death," Phil. 2:6, 7, 8; and to be the Lord of glory, who was crucified, 1 Cor. 2:8. (2.3.19)

It is here usual to inquire, whether Christ, as Mediator, is inferior to the Father and subordinate to him. But this controversy, it seems, may be easily settled among the orthodox: if the Mediator be considered in the state of humiliation and the form of a servant, he is certainly inferior to the Father, and subordinate to him. It was not of his human nature only, but of himself in that state, that he himself said, John 14:28. "The Father is greater than I." Nay, we may look upon the very mediatorial office in itself, as importing a certain economical inferiority or subordination; as being to be laid down, when all things shall be perfectly finished, and "God himself shall be all in all," 1 Cor. 15:28. Nevertheless this undertaking and mediation, and the bringing of fallen man to God, to grace, and glory, is not so much beneath the excellency of the Deity, but we may, without the least hesitation, affirm, that this glory of mediation is incommunicable to any creature. It is the glory of Jehovah to be the righteousness of Israel. This glory he gives to none who is not God: to be Mediator does not merely denote a servant of God, but the great God and Saviour; who, as the first and principal cause of saving grace, equal to the Father, works by his own power, our reconciliation with God, by means of the subjection and obedience of his human nature, without which the co-equal Son could neither perform his service, nor obey the Father. (2.3.20)

John Owen on the Tri-une Will of God

Two scholars who have spent a good deal of time with John Owen, Mark Jones and Matthew Barrett, have drawn attention to a passage in John Owen's Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews which seems worth reflecting on:

“But this sacred truth must be cleared from an objection whereunto it seems obnoxious, before we do proceed. ‘The will is a natural property, and therefore in the divine essence it is but one. The Father, Son, and Spirit, have not distinct wills. They are one God, and God’s will is one, as being an essential property of his nature; and therefore are there two wills in the one person of Christ, whereas there is but one will in the three persons of the Trinity. How, then, can it be said that the will of the Father and the will of the Son did concur distinctly in the making of this covenant?’

This difficulty may be solved from what hath been already declared; for such is the distinction of the persons in the unity of the divine essence, as that they act in natural and essential acts reciprocally one towards another,—namely, in understanding, love, and the like; they know and mutually love each other. And as they subsist distinctly, so they also act distinctly in those works which are of external operation. And whereas all these acts and operations, whether reciprocal or external, are either with a will or from a freedom of will and choice, the will of God in each person, as to the peculiar acts ascribed unto him, is his will therein peculiarly and eminently, though not exclusively to the other persons, by reason of their mutual in-being. The will of God as to the peculiar actings of the Father in this matter is the will of the Father, and the will of God with regard unto the peculiar actings of the Son is the will of the Son; not by a distinction of sundry wills, but by the distinct application of the same will unto its distinct acts in the persons of the Father and the Son. And in this respect the covenant whereof we treat differeth from a pure decree; for from these distinct actings of the will of God in the Father and the Son there doth arise a new habitude or relation, which is not natural or necessary unto them, but freely taken on them. And by virtue hereof were all believers saved from the foundation of the world, upon the account of the interposition of the Son of God antecedently unto his exhibition in the flesh; for hence he was esteemed to have done and suffered what he had undertaken so to do, and which, through faith, was imputed unto them that did believe.”

The citation is from Exercitation XXVIII on Federal Transactions between the Father and the Son which is found in volume 2 (pages 87-88).

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Augustine's Chalcedonian Exegesis

Provided then that we know this rule for understanding the scriptures about God’s Son and can thus distinguish the two resonances in them, one tuned to the form of God in which he is, and is equal to the Father, the other tuned to the form of a servant which he took and [in which] he is less than the Father, we will not be upset statements in the holy books that appear to be in flat contradiction with each other. In the form of God the Son is equal to the Father, and so is the Holy Spirit, since neither of them is a creature, as we have already shown. In the form of a servant, however, he is less than the Father, because he himself said, The Father is greater than I (Jn 14:28); he is also less than himself, because it is said of him, he emptied himself (Phil 2:7); and he is less than the Holy Spirit, because he himself said, Whoever utters a blasphemy against the Son of man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever utters one against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him (Mt 12:32). He also worked his deeds of power through him, as he said himself: If I in the Spirit of God cast out demons, the kingdom of God has come upon you for certain (Lk 11:20). And he says in Isaiah, in a lesson which he read in the synagogue, and declared without the slightest hesitation to be fulfilled in himself, The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; wherefore he anointed me, to preach the gospel to the poor he has sent me, to proclaim release to the captives, etc. (Is 61:1; Lk 4:18). It was precisely because the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, he says, that he was sent to do these things.

In the form of God, all things were made by him (Jn 1:3); in the form of a servant, he himself was made of a woman, made under the law (Gal 4:4). In the form of God, he and the Father are one (Jn 10:30); in the form of a servant, he did not come to do His own will, but the will of him who sent him (Jn 6:38). In the form of God, as the Father has life in himself, so he gave the Son also to have life in himself (Jn 5:26); in the form of a servant, his soul is sorrowful to the point of death, and, Father, he said, if it can be, let this cup pass by (Mt 26:28). In the form of God, he is true God and life eternal (1 Jn 5:20); in the form of a servant, he became obedient to the point of death, the death even of the cross (Phil 2:8). In the form of God, everything that the Father has is his (Jn 16:15), and all yours is mine, he says, and mine yours (Jn 17:10); in the form of a servant, his doctrine is not his own, but his who sent him (Jn 7:16).

Augustine, De Trinitate, I, 22.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Augustine on How God Send His Son

“What we are saying may perhaps be easier to sort out, if we put the question this way, crude though it is: In what manner did God send his Son? Did he tell him to come, giving him an order he complied with by coming, or did he ask him to, or did he merely suggest it? Well, whichever way it was done, it was certainly done by word. But God’s Word is his Son. So when the Father sent him by word, what happened was that he was sent by the Father and his Word. hence it is by the Father and the Son that the Son was sent, because the Son is the Father’s Word.” (De Trinitate 2.9)

Augustine stresses that this was not a word in time but that in the Wisdom of God “there was timelessly contained the time in which that Wisdom was to appear in the flesh.”

“Since then it was a work of the Father and the Son that the Son should appear in the flesh, the one who so appeared in the flesh is appropriately said to have been sent, and the one who did not to have done the sending.” (De Trinitate 2.9)

“If however the reason why the Son is said to have been sent by the Father is simply that the one is the Father, and the other the Son, then there is nothing at all to stop us believing that the Son is equal, and consubstantial, and co-eternal, and yet that the Son is sent by the Father. Not because one is greater and the other less, but because one is the Father, the other the Son; one is the begetter, the other begotten; the first is the one from whom the sent one is; the other is the one who is from the sender. For the Son is from the Father, not the Father from the Son. In the light of this we can now perceive that the Son is not just said to have been sent because the Word became flesh, but that he was sent in order for the Word to become flesh, and by his bodily presence to do all that was written. That is, we should understand that it was not just the man who the Word became that was sent, but that the Word was sent to become man. For he was not sent in virtue of some disparity of power or substance, or anything in him was not equal to the Father; but in virtue of the Son being from the Father, not the Father from the Son.”

“The Son of course is the Father’s Word which is also called his Wisdom. Is there anything strange, then, in his being sent, not because he is unequal to the Father, but because he is a ‘certain pure outflow of the glory of almighty God’ [Wis 7:25]? But in this case what flows out and what it flows out from are of one and the same substance. It is not like water flowing out from a hole in the ground or the rock, but like light flowing from light…” (De Trinitate 4.27)

Defending the covenant of redemption

Notes from a couple of blog posts by Scott Swain which in turn were adapted from Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain, ed., Christian Dogmatics: Reformed Theology for the Church Catholic (Baker Academic, 2016).

Herman Bavinck: "To conceive of the work of Christ as the exercise of an office is to relate that work to the eternal counsel. He bears the name Messiah, Christ, the Anointed, because he has been ordained of the Father from eternity and has in time been anointed by him with the Holy Spirit." 
This is well and good. But by what warrants may we say that the Son's eternal messianic appointment occurs per modum foederis, "by way of covenant"?
Wilhelmus à Brakel: "It will be easier to comprehend this matter if we primarily consider the execution of this covenant rather than the decree from which it proceeds... [T]he manner in which the Lord executes it in this time state is consistent with the manner in which he eternally decreed it."
In other words, though the scriptures are relatively reticent to speak of the Son's eternal appointment by the Father in covenantal terms, the scriptures speak quite liberally about the Son's historical execution of that appointment in covenantal terms and this language, when coupled with other biblical teaching about the eternal nature of the Son's messianic appointment, constitutes sufficient biblical warrant for the doctrine of the covenant of redemption.
Swain claims that "the New Testament speaks on a number of occasions of Jesus as one who is both recipient and mediator of the Father's covenant promises," notably in Luke 22.29Acts 2.33Galatians 3.16-29, 2 Cor 1.20-22.
Second, by means of "prosopological exegesis," the New Testament repeatedly employs Old Testament covenant language to portray the mutual dialogue between the Father and the Son regarding the latter's messianic mission and reward. 
"Hebrews 1 uses the covenantal language of 2 Samuel 7, Psalm 1, and Psalm 110 to describe the covenantal honor bestowed by the Father upon the Son," namely Heb 1.5 citing Ps 2.7 and 2 Sam 7.14 and Heb 1.13 citing Ps 110.1. Cf.Christ's appointment through an oath (Heb 7.21).

[I must read Richard A. Muller's extended essay at some point in the hope that it presents a better case.]

Does the concept of a covenant within the Trinity compromise the unity and simplicity of God. John Owen does not think so:
[S]uch is the distinction of the persons in the unity of the divine essence, as that they act in natural and essential acts reciprocally one towards another,--namely, in understanding, love, and the like; they know and mutually love each other. And as they subsist distinctly, so they also act distinctly in those works which are of external operation... The will of God as to the peculiar actings of the Father in this matter is the will of the Father, and the will of God with regard unto the peculiar actings of the Son is the will of the Son; not by a distinction of sundry wills, but by the distinct application of the same will unto its distinct acts in the persons of the Father and the Son.
Similarly Wilhelmus à Brakel: 
Since the Father and the Son are one in essence and thus have one will and one objective, how can there possibly be a covenant transaction between the two, as such a transaction requires the mutual involvement of two wills? Are we then not separating the persons of the Godhead too much? To this I reply that as far as personhood is concerned the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father. From this consideration the one divine will can be viewed from a twofold perspective. It is the Father's will to redeem by the agency of the second person as surety, and it is the will of the Son to redeem by his own agency as surety.
Final word from Scott Swain
Because the Son is consubstantial with the Father, God's redemptive will cannot be limited to the Father; the Son too must the agent of God's redemptive will. Moreover, because the Son eternally proceeds from the Father in his personal manner of subsisting, so too does his personal manner of willing proceed from the Father. The Son's willing submission to the Father in the pactum salutis is thus a faithful expression of his divine filial identity as the consubstantial, eternally begotten Son of God.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Wesley Hill on Paul's Trinitarian Thought

 A pastiche from different reviews of Wesley Hill’s Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015).

“The historically trained New Testament scholar will today proceed with the task of interpretation without wasting a minute on the suspicion that the Trinitarian confessions of later centuries might be rooted in the New Testament itself, and that the Trinitarian creeds might continue to function as valuable hermeneutical signposts for a modern understanding.” (Ulrich Mauser, cited here)

“Wesley, in contrast, thinks that Trinitarian categories can be hugely illuminating when it comes to Paul’s thought about God. In particular, the concept of relations between the divine persons needs to be brought into the discussion.” (Andrew Wilson) He “argues that by consciously avoiding trinitarian categories in an effort to be “historical” in their interpretation of Paul in his Jewish context, scholars have been working with one hand tied behind their backs.” (Derek Rishmawy)

“Instead of beginning with the question of how divine is Jesus,” the question that has preoccupied Pauline scholarship, employing the two (separate) categories of monotheism and Christology, “Hill wants to start with asking questions concerning relations. His thesis is that Paul cannot talk about one of the persons of the Godhead without mentioning, or identifying them by, their relationship to one or more of the other persons.” (Jonathan J. Routley)

Andrew Wilson again: “After a lengthy chapter 2, Wesley shows how a number of texts (Rom 4:248:11Gal 1:1) do much more than defining who Jesus is in relation to God; they define who God is in relation to Jesus...

The next two chapters tackle three crucial texts (Phil 2:6-111 Cor 8:4-615:24-28) of which it is frequently argued that, as well as sharing divine identity, Jesus is somehow subordinated to God, such that the unique status of God is not compromised. In response, Wesley argues (a) that this way of putting things assumes that the identity of God is something Paul conceived of independently of Jesus, which is not the case; (b) that the exalted language used of Jesus indicates that he is not just God-like, but “shown to belong within what makes YHWH unique”; (c) that differentiation and even subordination also appear in some texts; (d) that, taken together, Paul thinks in terms of an “asymmetrical mutuality” between the divine persons; and that (e) only the Trinitarian strategy of redoublement can make sense of this:
As we have seen, classic (both “Eastern” and “Western”) Trinitarian formulations regularly emphasised the need to speak of God “twice over”, describing the three “persons” or hypostases as irreducibly distinct and at the same time describing the three as one in essence or will or power ... such a “redoubled” discourse makes possibly an understanding of what might be called asymmetrical mutuality between God and Jesus, whereby God is not who God is as “father” without Jesus and Jesus is not who he is as the raised and exalted one without God.
As Derrick Peterson explains, “In addition to the idea of mutual reciprocity and identity, a second Trinitarian element Hill is wont to use throughout his argument, is the idea of “redoublement.” This is a term coined in the late 1960’s by Ghislain Lafont, and used more recently and in an extensive way by Thomistic scholar Gilles Emery and his student, Matthew Levering—but the concept described by the term is present in the tradition from very early on. The basic sense of redoublement is: there must be a twofold description of God to describe both the three irreducible persons, and also their essential unity. As Lewis Ayres puts it: “we must describe the same ground twice over.” [Augustine and the Trinity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 260.] To collapse these descriptions into a single frame of reference is to endanger the biblical character of either aspect.”

“With the fathers like Athanasius, medievals such as Aquinas, and even recent relational theologies, Hill argues we need to understand that the identities of Father, Son, and Spirit are mutually-defining in the texts in such a way that both unity and differentiation is accounted for.” (Derek Rishmawy

“In a move that parallels, complements, and possibly clarifies our retrieval of redoublement, [Francis] Watson draws on the affirmation that Christ has two natures, both a human and divine one. The Son has eternally always been the Son of the Father, equal in power, glory, beauty, and divine authority. And yet, at a particular point in time he assumed–added to himself–a human nature that has not always sat on the throne of heaven, but has walked in humility and weakness as a peasant in the 1st Century. This union, the person of the Godman, the Mediator, according to Watson, is the subject of these texts speaking of the exaltation of Christ. [Rom. 1:3-4; Phil. 2:9]” (Derek Rishmawy)

“Finally he turns to the Spirit, looking at 1 Corinthians 12:3Galatians 4:4-7 and 2 Corinthians 3:17.” (Andrew Wilson) “Hill seeks to show that the Holy Spirit is also identified by His relations both to God and to Jesus. He argues that the Spirit’s identity is most often traced back to God and Jesus rather than the other way around, but then offers Rom. 1:3-4 and 8:11 as two prominent passages demonstrating the reverse.” (Jonathan J. Routley)

Monday, 13 June 2016

Two Types of Submission

"we need to distinguish between two types of submission. The first type (type I) comes from the realm of political and military struggle. This type of submission is obedience to an external authority, which can be voluntary but often is not. The second type of submission (type II) is one that comes from personal relationships and is often based on love or compassion. In this second type, submission is the voluntary giving up of power in order to take up the role of a slave, so that one may serve the needs of another person. The first type is external, hierarchical, and legal. The second type is internal, personal, and a kind of gift or grace."

Alan G. Padgett, As Christ Submits to the Church: A Biblical Understanding of Leadership and Mutual Submission (Baker Academic, 2011), xiii

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Church and State in Tudor Thought

Oliver O'Donovan writes in On the Thirty-Nine Articles: A Conversation with Tudor Christianity (1986; 2nd ed., 2011 [page numbers cited below are one page lower in the first edition]):

The Thirty-Nine Articles “are interested in two kinds of authority only, as exercised in two different social contexts. They are interested in the authority of true speech which persuades minds and instills convictions; and they are interested in the authority of legitimate command, which orders and directs the conduct of social life. Broadly speaking, they maintain the position that the Church, as 'the witness and a keeper of Holy Writ', exercises the former authority in society, and the monarch the latter.” (page 99)

“In the social orders which prevail until the coming of Christ, the authority of truth and the authority of command had better be kept explicitly distinct, since in practice any attempt to embody the whole truth in a political order must lead to disillusionment. For this reason Western Christian thought has tended to favour the development of a 'liberal' theory, which separates the authorities, rather than of an ideological totalitarianism.” (page 100)

“But it is a matter of some difficulty for the modern reader to grasp that this division of authorities does not imply the distinction of what we call 'church and state'...The very word 'state' used ambiguously by moderns with two distinct meanings: it sometimes represents the Greek politeia and the Latin respublica, which mean the politically organized community as a whole; but it is also, and more commonly, used to mean the distinctly political structures within the community, as opposed to all other aspects of the community's life...Now, this modern conception of the state as a department of society was not known to the Tudors and begins to make its appearance (in English thought at least) only in the seventeenth century. The Tudors did not conceive of society as divided (in Althusian fashion) into self-governing departments, each with its own proper area of concern. Thus they did not draw what might seem to us to be the obvious conclusion from the principle of twofold authority: that the monarch should not interfere with the affairs of the church, and that the church should not interfere with the affairs of the state.” (pp.100-101)

“The authority of the ruler extended over the whole of society 'whether...ecclesiastical or civil'. But then, so did the authority of God's word extend over the whole of society...In the next century...[the latter] drops out of sight, and seventeenth-century Anglicanism is marked by the growth of an absolutists theory of monarchical authority, reflecting, like the negative of a photograph, the absolutist conceptions of popular sovereignty which were steadily gaining ground throughout Europe.” (page 101)

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Baxter's Politics in His Own Words

Citations from Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory (Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2008), Part IV, "Christian Politics" (pp. 737-904).

Chapter III

Prop. IV. Yet God hath left that which is commonly called, the specification of government; and some lower parts of the matter, and manner of exercise, undetermined; as also the individual persons or families that shall rule. In these three therefore it is that communities interpose. 1. Whether the sovereignty shall be in one, or two, or ten, or how many, and how divided for their exercise, God hath not determined. 2. Nor hath he determined of every particular, whether the power shall extend to this, or that, or the other thing, or not? Nor whether it shall be exercised thus or thus, by standing courts, or temporary judges, &c. 3. Nor hath he named the person or family that shall rule.

Prop. IX. If you take the word law properly, for the expression of a ruler's will obliging the governed, or making their duty...then it is clear in the definition itself, that neither subjects, nor the community, as such, have any legislative power.

Prop. X. Though God have not made a universal determination for any sort of government, against the rest, (whether monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy,) because that is best for one people, which may be worse for others, yet ordinarily monarchy is accounted better than aristocracy, and aristocracy better than democracy [with a lengthy refutation of Richard Hooker's argument that lawful legislative power belongs to the whole society for which the laws are made and that it is natural that "free and independent societies should themselves make their own laws"].

Direct. V. Do not either divulge or aggravate the vices of your governors to their dishonour; for their honour is necessary to the public good.If they have not care of their own honour, yet their subjects must have a care of it. If once they be dishonoured, they will the more easily be contemned, hated, and disobeyed. Therefore the dishonouring of the rulers tendeth to the dissolution of the government, and ruin of the commonwealth.

Direct. XV. Meddle not uncalled with the matters of superiors, and take not upon you to censure their actions, whom you have neither ability, fitness, or authority to censure. How commonly will every tradesman and labourer at his work, be censuring the counsels and government of the king; and speaking of things, which they never had means sufficiently to understand! Unless you had been upon the place, and heard all the debates and consultations, and understood all the circumstances and reasons of the business, how can you imagine that at so great a distance you are competent judges?

Direct. XX. Think not that any change of the form of government, would cure that which is caused by the people's sin, or the common pravity of human nature.

direct. XXX. Murmur not at the payment of those necessary tributes, by which the common safety must be preserved, and the due honour of your governors kept up. Sordid covetousness hath been the ruin of many a commonwealth. When every one is shifting for himself, and saving his own, and murmuring at the charge by which their safety must be defended...this selfishness is the most pernicious enemy of government, and to the common good.

Politics and Theology in the Thought of Baxter

Notes from an essay by Walter T. B. Douglas entitled "Politics and Theology in the Thought of Richard Baxter," published in two parts in Andrew University Seminary Studies in 1977 and 1978.

Richard Baxter (1615-1691) was "perhaps the most articulate champion of conservative Puritanism at the time when the movement flourished and then began to disintegrate as a cohesive force."

Baxter lived in an age prior to the modern compartmentalization of religion and politics...Hobbes could not avoid discussing both at great length. Essentially, Baxter believed in the concept of the Christian state, but he opposed the scholastic view of the hierarchical, organic, and teleological structure. He defended the position that political government was necessarily rooted in the divine constitution of the world.

Baxter's respect for law and authority was rooted in his theological understanding and exposition of the absolute sovereignty of God, of the nature of man, and of the hierarchical structure of society.

In Baxter's thought the question of sovereignty is a key doctrine, one that is carefully worked out in his effort to combine theology and political theory.

Baxter takes as his point of departure the concept of the Corpus Christianum rather than the concept of the duality of Church and State. His Protestantism and in a narrower sense his Puritanism, had taught him that God can be experienced first as "will," and not as "reason" or perfection of being.

Whenever Baxter discussed politics systematically, he provided clear evidence that his a priori point of departure is the absolute sovereignty of God.His system consisted of at least three basic points: (1) God is Creator, and therefore has absolute dominion or ownership; (2) God alone has a moral right to govern man because he alone is qualified by his fullness of wisdom, goodness, and power to fulfill such a task; and (3) God has the highest right to govern man because he is man's greatest benefactor. In particular, God holds this right over man through the redemption of Christ.

Baxter concludes that God has not only the jus irnperii but also the jus dominii; that is, the world under God is not only a monarchy, but an absolute monarchy.

God could rule the world fact...elected to rule mediately-that is, to use some parts of the creation to rule other parts. To say this, Baxter argues, is to agree that God had created a natural inequality in the cosmos, a hierarchy of administration, in which some parts mediate his government over other parts.

In summary, since man is rational, moral, and ultimately responsible to God, government by law is the only government consistent with man's nature.

[Part 2]

What are the practical implications of Baxter's political philosophy? ... Baxter rejected a purely utilitarian social contract theory of the origin of the State.

Baxter maintains that in its basic structure, society is hierarchical and theocratic. In ultimate terms there could be no authority independent of God. Within society, it resides in three main spheres: the Church, the State, and the family. In each of these, the one who exercises authority receives his right to do so from God. Once this is acknowledged, this individual's command to rule must then be respected and obeyed.

He insisted that a theory which locates the origin of political government in the surrender to a human sovereign of an absolute right that each man naturally has over himself is not only artificial but challenges the Christian premise of the sovereignty of God.

Baxter pointed to an ascending scale of ends to which political government must tend. The most immediate, he asserts, is the good order of the body procured by the administration, or "the orderly state and behaviour of the society which is the exercise of Government and subjection, and the obedience to God, and just behaviour unto men that is manifested therein." Thus, the immediate end of political government is order and justice. But this is only a means to the intermediate and final end. The intermediate end is the common good. The final end is the everlasting happiness of men and the eternal glory of God.

EU - Responding to Joe Boot, Part Two

In deciding whether the UK should remain in the EU or leave, Joe Boot believes we need to ask the following questions
"What kind of political arrangement for Britain best guards against the proneness of governments and their bureaucracies to overreach themselves and deify (absolutize) some aspect of the socio-political life of humanity? Which arrangements can place the best check on fallen political power? Which structure most reflects God’s intention for the state? Which arrangement best protects our liberty? Which context provides the best opportunity for our Christian faith to flourish and work like leaven through the loaf of British society? And is leaving the EU or staying in the EU likely to provide the greatest degree of accountability of leaders to their people?"
He adds
"In answering these questions adequately we need to briefly examine two important things. First the unique political inheritance of freedom and justice in Britain and the values and virtues upon which it has been historically based. And second, the European project and the values and virtues upon which it was and is being constructed. Whether these are compatible lies at the heart of the question of ‘Brexit.’"
He fails to define at this point in which sense "the political inheritance of freedom and justice in Britain" is unique. Is it that others don't really care for freedom and justice the way Britons do? Or is that freedom and justice have a unique meaning in Britain? Or is it that Britain got its inheritance of freedom and justice via a different route than others? The remainder of his post hints that all of them apply to some extent. What is clear (for Joe Boot) is that Britain's political inheritance is mostly shaped by the Protestant Reformation, "whilst the major European powers remained within the Roman church." But the really decisive factor was the English Revolution (1640-1689).
"During this period, the absolute power of the monarchy was decisively broken, the rule of law affirmed, and a free English Parliament steadily established."
We can probably see where this is going. The EU seeks absolute power (sees itself as omni-competent), does not acknowledge the rule of law, and Europeans just don't have the respect for parliament that Britons do. What's more, 
"the founding fathers of the European project were dominated by concerned Catholic Christian Democrats connected with Pope Pius XII"
So while British political culture is shaped by Protestant freedom, "the social vision" behind European integration "was to be an essentially Roman Catholic one that emphasized soft socialism and top-down hierarchical government."
"The great majority of these early European lights then were socialists, Catholic politicians and Thomistic intellectuals. It is therefore no real surprise that the EU has developed to become elitist, highly bureaucratic, and out of touch with people, with about as much transparency as the Vatican."
His source is Daniel Hannan which probably explain why the Roman Catholic social teaching is presented in such a skewed way. Laws to protect workers are said to have been the result of "presupposing the Marxist ideology of class struggle" and to have led to a welfare-entitlement culture which resents the clawing back of the welfare state. At this point this still reads like a description of the EU which does not apply to the UK. Later on  the author acknowledges that the UK has in fact the same problems, presumably because (in his view) membership in the EU has turned the UK into a welfare state as well.

Joe Boot even manages to rubbish the concept of subsidiarity (well, it's got to be wrong, it's Roman Catholic).He claims that it is unworkable; its implementation necessarily "arbitrary and subjective" because who is to tell at which level decisions should be taken.

He also finds fault with the social morality aspect. While Britain was shaped by clear confessional values, guarded by "the United Kingdom’s monarch and reformed church," the EU is said to have relied on vague appeals to human dignity and responsibility and this is why what Europeans are left with is
"an almost exclusive preoccupation with money, prosperity and welfare. Economics has become the almost lone criterion for shared values."
And it got only worse with the inclusion of Eastern European member states.
"For many of these countries the simple question has been whether they will be ‘better off’ in or out of this massive political Eurozone, not whether the EU provides a moral, principled and accountable structure for European political life."
Unlike the British referendum debate then?

Actually, Joe Boot recognises that again Britons are not so different after all.
"Sadly, this financial criterion seems to be the only question far too many Britons are asking at this critical point of decision, as though being in or out of this political vision of integration were solely a matter of money and trade." 
But he does not ask why Britain's superior political heritage has not offered greater protection to its citizens. His antithetical presentation of Protestant (= British) and Catholic (= European) political ideals not only ignores the effect of the Reformation on continental Europe but also all that has happened since the religious wars of the seventeenth century.

The claim that "the European Union now consists of 28 member states with wildly diverse political and religious traditions and complex histories" is not altogether wrong but erases the Christian heritage that shaped Europe, even though towards the end the author acknowledges that "the cultural space of Europe as a whole could still be characterized as Christian in its inheritance." What is going on? Joe Boot seems to think that the European Christian heritage is irredeemably lost, while the British Protestant heritage can be retrieved once the UK has left the EU (but only then).

Boot is right to be concerned about the existence of a demos with shared values. I would agree that for democracy to function well there need to be a recognizable demos, not just a conglomeration of individuals who are given the same rights.
"At root, the source of any true unity for a people is religious. Lasting political and cultural cohesion depends on a people sharing a common vision of reality, a common cause, a common identity – in short, a common faith. A common faith is the basis of commonwealth."
(His comments on the importance of sharing a common language maybe relate specifically to monolingual societies; in other parts of the world linguistic diversity is less of a threat to social cohesion because people speak more than one language fluently.)
The problem is the vastly overstated claim to British exceptionalism and the implicit claim that just beneath the surface there is still a cultural consensus within the UK shaped by its Reformation heritage. There is much more we have in common across Europe than divides us and this includes the question of how to respond to the disintegration of a broadly shared vision of reality. This loss of a shared political vision may indeed lead to growing coercion but making governments geographically smaller offers no protection against this. Many of the most brutal, oppressive regimes were geographically small. Larger empires cannot always control their territory as fully as small nation states can. The size of the military and of the police force is a more reliable index of the intensity of coercion to be expected than the number of civil servants who dream of greater integration.

Claiming that the EU is an Utopian project allows Joe Boot to describe it as a failure by simply listing how it falls short of the utopia of a secure world of prosperity without war without the need to weigh up the pros and cons of an arrangement such as the EU.
"Notably it has not prevented war in Europe, for we have seen Bosnia, Kosovo and the Ukraine descend into desperate conflicts in the last 25 years, with Russia successfully annexing Crimea."
The question how relationships between the founding members of the EU might have developed without the European project may be impossible to answer but I hazard the claim that Russia would have annexed the Crimea even if there had been no EU. But the question whether without a EU there would still be warfare, and maybe even more of it than with the existence of the EU, is irrelevant to Joe Boot. There has been war. Ergo, the EU is a failed project because it did not fulfill the utopia of a world free of war.
"It has not provided prosperity. Resentments run deep regarding so-called austerity both in terms of the creditor and the borrower as the welfare states of Europe creak under mounting structural pressure and massive debt loads."
Again, Joe Boot sees no need to examine whether prosperity within the EU member states would be greater or lesser without the EU. There is no need to ask why first the UK and later so many ex-Communist countries wanted to join the economic "failure" that is the EU, or the extent to which current economic problems are related to EU membership or policies. There are economic problems which the EU has not solved. Ergo, the EU is a failed project because it does not give us an Utopian world of prosperity for all.
"Neither has it provided security. The free movement of people through open borders is proving a disaster area and a matter of real consternation in the face of a massive migration crisis of mainly Muslim populations from all over the world into the heart of Western Europe. Both the open borders and welfare handouts of Europe have created a huge security threat in the face of Islamic terrorism and economic migration from Afghanistan to Syria and Somalia. Plus the fact that even within Europe the movement of people has been largely that of low-skilled workers into the more prosperous nations, creating resentment."
Finally, Boot need not limit himself to ticking off the EU for failing to provide the total safety of an Utopian world. There is some evidence to suggest that the EU makes the security situation worse and this in two ways. The free movement of EU citizens within the EU makes it harder for the UK to keep French, Dutch and German terrorists out of the country. This is true. Whether it is a serious problem is debatable. So far home-grown terrorists have not travelled very far within Europe and, from what I know, have rarely been crossing borders with passport controls which is to say that terrorists threats within the UK are still much more likely to come from British rather than Belgian terrorists. Still, one can minimise the risk by keeping the Belgians out. Brexiteers by and large claim that this problem could be solved by leaving the EU while remaining in a free-trade relationship with it. But this does not seem likely, see Norway and Switzerland. Those who think that the terrorist threat from fellow EU citizens is a substantial risk should be prepared to get out and stay outside the EEA, not just the EU. It is little surprise that it is hard to find Brexiters who would honestly admit this.

In addition, there are refugees and economic migrants. The EU struggles to keep them out, partly for geographical reasons, partly for humanitarian ones. Being an island gives the UK a better chance to claim that this is someone else's problem. Maybe for now the UK manages doing precisely that (claiming all this is someone else's problem) even while inside the EU but it is true that some of those migrants and refugees at some point in the future might get, say, German or Italian citizenship and then they could come to the UK. And who is to say that the Germans and the Italians might not award citizenship to terrorists? Still, if one of the big fears is Islamization (and it is for Joe Boot), will the UK really be able and willing to minimize this by regulating immigration accordingly, maybe by way of setting a maximum number of Muslim immigrants?

I am not confident that it is true that within the EU the main movement has been of low-skilled workers into more prosperous nations, as Boot claims. Sending countries often make the contrary claim that they loose their best people. What I do know is that EU citizens moving into the UK usually get jobs. It is often claimed that this is because they are prepared to work for less. Maybe so, although the minimum wage seeks to ensure that this is not simply a race to the bottom. Anecdotally it is also frequently claimed that those pesky Roman Catholic Poles have a very Protestant work ethic...

Probably because he does not believe in subsidiarity, Joe Boot does not get the idea that some people might genuinely believe that there are things that are best addressed at the local level, others at regional, still others at national, and still others at European level and that therefore there is a place for European governing authorities alongside national ones. Also, he does seem convinced that this is all a con with the real aim being the abolishing of lower tiers of government in favour one one big Brussles government. So for John Boot supporting the EU can only mean bowing down to the idol of global government and "a technocratic utopian delusion of elitist coercion". It is a typical case of "because I could only support x, if I wanted y, you who support x must want y."

As indicated above, and to his credit, Joe Boot recognises that leaving the EU in and of itself does nothing to address "our welfare-dependent, sexually promiscuous, irreligious, politically indifferent and morally vacuous popular culture". So wherein lies his hope? In the Gospel, yes, even "in the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit." Alas, and this does not sit well with Reformed theology, he seems to think that the grace of God needs something with which it can co-operate, something it will find in British Protestant traditions but not in the wider European Christian heritage.

EU - Responding to Joe Boot, Part One

Joe Boot has offered his thoughts on how Christians should understand "the practice of voting, the role of the state and the true nature of freedom" and what implications this has on how we think about the EU. I do not know Joe Boot but I know people who have been taken in by his argument. I felt compelled to discuss his presentation at length not so much to defend the EU but to question the idea that an aversion to rules, pride in one's Protestant heritage, deep suspicion of Roman Catholicism, and fear of Islam add up to a coherent Christian political vision.

(It's possible to get the gist of this first part by scrolling to the section that begins with the question "What are the implications...?")

The first section, on "Navigating Britain's EU Referendum Decision," sadly employs the sort of language we have come to expect in this referendum debate and sets the tone for what follows. Speaking of the IMF (described as "closely aligned with EU institutions") as "suitably obliging" the UK government excuses Boot from engaging with the economic argument presented by the IMF. A slur will do. And maybe to warn us against taking the arguments of the Remain campaign too seriously, he considers it important to notice how "highly emotive" it is; he does not note that this is true for the Leave campaign as well. Clearly, we are not to expect a balanced presentation in this post. This is a fight between big, bad Goliath and heroic David and Joe Boot intends to give David all the help he can. He is right about this:
"Remarkably, then, the popular case being put forward for remaining in the EU is conspicuously missing any substantive appeal to a sense of shared European values, the public good of European institutions for Britain, of a shared European identity, or the importance of an ‘ever closer union’ that has actuated the expanding European dream for decades. Instead we are essentially hearing appeals to people’s immediate fears of potential economic problems rather than a more robust defense of and advocacy for the European vision and its institutions, in which Britain is currently embedded and continuously funds with tax-payer money."
Except that this is not really remarkable, given who does the arguing. Did anyone really expect that David Cameron would admit that his much touted "British values" are actually shared across Europe? Does the Conservative party have more than a small handful of politicians who dare to speak of the shared Christian heritage of Europe? The failure to see the public good of European institutions or to admit a shared European identity or to speak up for shared European values is widespread within the Tory party and certainly by the time Joe Boot wrote his post the whole referendum debate was still a matter of Tories debating each other. But this itself does not yet us whether there are in fact shared European values etc.

The economic argument is predictable. We are asked to look at Norway and Switzerland, noticing that they are doing well outside the EU. As always, this ignores that main motivations for Brexit are the desire to limit immigration from EU countries and to do away with requirements to submit to EU standards. In what sense can Norway and Switzerland who have to abide by EU rules and standards and have a higher proportion of EU immigrants than the UK be held up as examples now? But our interest is not really in the economics and we agree on how impossible it is to make reliable predictions. Martin Lewis is eloquent on this.

So what about the distinctly Christian argument? Joe Boot notes that Christians want to have their view of all human institutions controlled by Scripture and that there are four such institutions which God clearly established, namely marriage, family, the church, and the state. The separation of marriage and family into two institutions is debatable but we need not concern ourselves with this here. The use of the word "state" is potentially problematic for the discussion at hand. It is not used in any of the Biblical references given and not defined by Boot. The most important reference he cites is surely Romans 13:1-7, a passage that speaks of God instituting "governing authorities" and appointing "rulers" rather than establishing "states", let alone "nation states". Within the Roman empire in which Paul's letter travelled there would have been a good few layers of "governing authorities" and "rulers" from city magistrates via local kings to the Emperor, just as residents in Monken Hadley find themselves subject to layers of authorities from the Barnet Borough Council and Mayor of Barnet to the European parliament and EU presidents via Greater London authorities and Westminster. What might be the distinctly Christian argument for withdrawing from the authority of one of those rulers? Boot will not go as far as to claim that only democratically elected rulers are instituted by God or that only governing authorities covering a mono-cultural group are legitimate but neither is he going to tell us more about a Biblical concept of statehood.

He highlights the distinction between structure and direction
"The structure of something concerns God’s laws and ordained pattern – for example, for the family, church, and state. The direction of these spheres concerns the orientation that they have. There are various structures in God’s creation but only two directions. We are either oriented toward God or toward idolatry in marriage, family, church, and state."
This is an important distinction because it allows him to affirm that when marriages or states "fail", it is not the structure of marriage or state that has failed but the various actors involved. The true meaning here is that when marriages or states "fail" this does not question the principle or the rightness of having marriages or states (governing authorities). But the way he puts the distinction allows him to overlook the possibility of structural problems and failures. Some marriages and states are set up badly. Hence the following is an oversimplification.  
"In short, political challenges are at root fundamentally religious and moral challenges."
Yes, often they are. But sometimes there are practical and structural problems that need addressing and can be addressed without having to accuse anyone of idolatry or immorality.

What are the implications for our understanding of the EU? 
"First, the inescapable reality of sin means that the close accountability of civil government and its public officials to the people being governed is central to a Christian understanding of statecraft. The more distant and removed from direct accountability governments and their bureaucracies are, the greater the threat to people’s freedom and self-determination under God."
This is of course a standard argument. The EU is bad because it's far away. There are some practical issues that would need to be addressed here about how accountability should and can work in a global economy but, being entrusted with teaching the word of God rather than with state affairs, what worries me most  is the phrase "central to a Christian understanding of statecraft". It is of course not backed up by any reference either to the Scriptures or Christian tradition. From where did the ideal of "people's freedom and self-determination under God" spring and how is it defined? Why and in what sense is democracy central to an understanding of statecraft that seeks to be Christian? (I myself would want to explore what Orthodox Christians, Western medieval theologians, and the Church Fathers thought about this. I suspect that Boot's version of Protestantism makes such questions irrelevant.) And if "Christian" means "controlled by Scripture", where is the Scriptural argument for the supremacy of (national) parliaments?
"Second, what especially arises from the Christian understanding of the state, that is peculiarly relevant here, is the importance of maintaining realistic expectations of political institutions and so limiting institutional political power in the light of sin."
Apparently the founders of the EU had Utopian dreams and usurping the role of God. Sorry, I just don't think that having too high expectations of what the EU institutions could do if we only let them is the problem of our time. And Boot assumes rather than argues that reducing the geographical reach of political institutions equates with limiting institutional political power. The opposite may be true in all sorts of ways. People might have fewer unrealistic expectations of a government that is further away. Also, those who set their hopes in "a planned society, created by political engineering" will seek to reduce federalist arrangements (governments at different levels) in favour of centralisation. The suggestion that Eurocrats are planning for a Gleichschaltung of Europe is fear mongering. The EU will not overcome the problem of sin but neither will the UK leaving the EU lead to a significant reduction of sin, let alone overcome the problem of sin. Joe Boot acknowledges this. Yet he skews the discussion by suggesting that the case for remaining in the EU rests on the hope of "providing socio-political salvation through technocratic means."

For Joe Boot this is as a black and white issue. On the one hand is an idolatrous vision of salvation through the state. On the other hand, a state that humbly sticks to its basic tasks, "the restraint of evil and the commending of righteousness" and leave other things to human institutions that are not mentioned in the Bible such as charities and corporations and therefore should be allowed to operate without too much communal oversight by way of law and order. Anglicans might be tempted to dismiss this as the result of a faulty "regulative principle" found in some versions of Presbyterianism (if it's not mentioned in the Bible, it's not allowed; so no organs and no national health service either). But the problem goes deeper. Boot does not have a sufficiently broad view of evil. If companies can gain an economic advantage in the marketplace by exploiting workers and ignoring safety standards, by selling fake products or by using misleading labels etc., is that not evil? And is it therefore not the responsibility of rulers to enforce certain rules and regulations? If certain ways of going about your trade or engaging in fishing and agriculture come at a huge environmental cost which is borne by communities that are not party to the transaction rather than by the seller and buyer, is that not evil that needs to be restrained? Is evil no longer evil if addressing it might interfere with free trade?

Monday, 6 June 2016

EU - Some Thoughts

Ros Clarke posted some questions on the EU. Here a few thoughts
Questions of principle:
1. Is there greater political accountability in the EU or out of it?
Political accountability here presumably refers to what Nick Clegg calls "the basic democratic principle that those who makes the laws of the land should be elected by those who obey the laws of the land" or something like that. (I have obeyed UK law for close to two and a half decades without having a say in who makes the laws but I am not complaining.)  Unlike some Brits Nick Clegg is not convinced that Westminster and Whitehall are more democratic than Brussels and Luxembourg. I reckon the democratic deficit in either is indeed higher than in Berlin and Stuttgart for all the problems there are in Germany as well. Surely political accountability could be improved both in the UK and the EU. Ironically, the latter has been resisted most forcefully by those who most want the UK to leave the EU. For them giving the European parliament a greater role would be an erosion of national sovereignty.
2. Are the curbs on political corruption greater in the EU or out of it?
Adding political layers may increase opportunities for corruption. Then again corruption comes from those with money and power and in our world those with the most money and power are multinationals. It stands to reason that smaller nation states have less power to curb undue influence from big corporations. As for other forms of corruption, I see no reason to think that expenses scandals and "jobs for the boys" maneuvers in Westminster are best prevented by taking the UK outside the EU.
3. Will the increasing economic ties between EU countries continue to force increasing political ties? And if so, what does that mean for national democracy?
It may depend on how one defines politics and political ties. One of the errors of our time is a tendency to look at economics as if trade could ever be a-political. There is an appetite for greater democratic accountability and this likely means stronger political ties.
4. Is there any inherent benefit to having a smaller government or a larger one?
Instinctively, I like the idea of small governments but we live in a very complex world where reduced state interference (which is what small government is mostly about, I suppose) means less regulation which in turn means greater freedom for the powerful to abuse people and the planet. Eating local food (and less meat) is obviously better for the health of the planet but in a deregulated universe the costs of flying in food from far away places is not borne by seller or consumer of the particular good but by the wider community and so with much else. Government of God's creation is our vocation as humanity created in the image of God and not as individuals but as communities. If we want communities to act together and if we want decisions that affect the whole community to be made by the whole community (or their elected representatives), there is a limit to how small we can allow the state to get. Health care is another example. In the days when doctors could do little more than prescribe a little medicine and let some blood, there was less need of a national health system. Now the finances involved in medical care are such that most of us think it best to have some sort of insurance system and a case can be made for this to be best in public hands. This is not compatible with really small government. The quickest way to reduce the size of government is to privatise the NHS. Some of course want this but few admit to it.
5. Nation or empire? Superstate or federal state?
What actually is a nation? And what is an empire? It is often said that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy nor Roman, was it an empire? (Surely it is not simply a question of whether there is someone called an emperor. The likelihood of the EU acquiring an emperor seems slim.) What is a superstate?  I have no great fears of the EU becoming centralised. After all, even the UK, traditionally no less centralised than France, has been moving towards federalism with a parliament for Scotland, an assembly for Wales, elected mayors etc. 
6. What is the role of the monarchy in an EU nation?
Many Brexiteers seem to seriously believe that a United States of Europe is on the cards, a political entity which ushers passports for its citizens. I don't. National parliaments won't be abolished, why should the role of monarchies change?
Questions of pragmatics:
7. Does the EU really give us greater national security?
I doubt it. Nor would leaving the EU.
8. Has the EU been effective in preventing armed conflict in Europe?
How would one measure this? I suspect that the greater movements of people, not only goods, makes armed conflict within the EU less likely. The greater interrelationships make it more obvious that everyone would suffer.
9. Is there any reason we couldn’t have generous and compassionate immigration policies if we left the EU?
Not in theory but the British mood is for more self-serving immigration policies and the more removed from the EU the UK becomes the easier it is for British people to think that the arrival of thousands of desperate people on European shores is surely "someone else's problem".
10. Is there any reason we couldn’t establish good trade agreements with EU nations if we left the EU?
Define "good trading agreements". There is little reason to think that the EU would budge on issues on which it did not budge in relation to EFTA countries. So if you want to limit immigration of EU citizens, you should be prepared to trade with the EU without a trade deal.
11. If we left the EU, how likely is that to trigger similar decisions in other EU countries and potentially cause the whole project to fail? What would the consequences of that be?
I find this impossible to predict. There is little chance that the UK would turn into an economic and democratic paradise as a result of leaving the EU. I suspect that developments in the UK might well discourage others from attempting a similar move. 

Friday, 3 June 2016

Sundays after Trinity Sermon Series, Part 2

I am going ahead with the sermon series on various means of grace (temple, prophecy, monarchy, law, covenant), as outlined recently. The first post suggested topics which could be explored; this one suggests pastoral issues that could be addressed.

29 May (Proper 4)
1 Kings 8.22-23, 41-43 -  nihilism: God gives identity and purpose.

5 June (Proper 5)
1 Kings 17.17-24 - death: God's word ultimately proves life-giving.

12 June (Proper 6)
2 Samuel 11.26-12.10, 13-15 - greed: Subverting God's order diminishes us all.

19 June (Proper 7)
Galatians 3.23-29 - rebellion against God: God's law has aim and purpose.

26 June (Proper 8)
1 Kings 19.15-16, 19-21 - weariness: Where God is committed, God remains committed.

The role of the Temple speaks of the role of the church - a microcosm model of the universe, a reminder of humanity's mission, a means to help us fulfill our vocation.

The role of prophecy speaks to us about the role of the Bible. We find there that our death is not reducible to a natural event but a judgement on our ways. And yet God's word has not been given to judge the world but to save it, to give the dead son back to the mother - alive (1 Kings 17:23; Luke 7:15).

Democracy is good in many ways but without vision a people perish. Where there is no demos but only a conglomeration of individuals with competing claims and agendas, democracy can turn into "horse-trading" and the tyranny of the majority. Monarchy is a gift, offering cohesion, but readily abused. David's adultery is an abuse of office as much as anything else. But we have a king who is greater than David, greater than Solomon, under whose rule all flourish and in whose service is perfect freedom. Monarchy speaks to us of the messiah who orders our desires.

Sin is manifest in the breaking of God's law but its root is lack of trust in God. Those who trust that God has our welfare at heart believe that God's purposes are good and that his law is not arbitrary. The law has more than one function - traditionally reflected in the threefold division of the law (moral, civil, ceremonial) although division is not the best approach. As a complete body, the Mosaic law is given to point us to Christ and needs to be read this way.

"What are you doing here?" Elijah's gets asked twice. He answers in the same way both times, focusing on himself and what those around him are doing which is not the way to shake off weariness. Sadly, his claim that "the Israelites have forsaken your covenant" was largely true. But this is no reason to give up because at the end of the day the covenant stands or falls with God's commitment. As long as God does not disown the commitment he has made, there is hope. The new covenant shows God's commitment to his people through sin and death.