Theological critique of Escondido Two Kingdoms theology (X): "There is no such thing as a secular society."

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In its use of society as the foundational term for human community, modern political philosophy conceives of civic life on the pattern of a group of acting subjects in a purely human space. The ever recurring image of such a group is one of players around a table. As Thomas Hobbes wrote, "It is in the laws of a commonwealth, as in the laws of gaming: Whatsoever the gamesters all agree on, is injustice to none of them." It is to be found again in the work of Adam Smith, who speaks of the "great chess-board of human society." The image loses its metaphorical self-consciousness and becomes conceptually foundational in later authors. John Rawls' description of the original position provides a good example. And history takes political theory seriously. Our political communities have become "societies" resembling ever more closely a club of gamblers.

For the game to be fair, it must be secular. The space of our democratic societies is flat. Nobody is allowed to stand higher than others. The first to be excluded is the One Above, especially when people claim to have received from him some message or mission that puts them closer to his divine reality—and thus higher... {C}

Democratic space must remain inside itself. To put it in Latin: It must be immanent. Tocqueville noticed that aristocratic man was constantly sent back to something that is placed outside his own self, something above him. Democratic man, on the other hand, refers only to himself.

The democratic social space is not only flat but closed. And it is closed because it is (sic) has to be flat. What is outside, whatever claims to have worth and authority in itself and not as part of the game, must be excluded. Whoever and whatever will not take a seat at the table at the same level as all other claims and authorities, however mundane, is barred from the game. Again, the Great Outsider must be dismissed.

This is illustrated by a famous anecdote, although its authenticity is not above doubt. When in 1787 the Congress of the United States had painted itself into a corner, leading Benjamin Franklin to suggest that prayers be said to the Father of lights, Alexander Hamilton guffawed that he "did not see the necessity of calling on foreign aid."

Hamilton was more far-sighted than he knew.

(Rémi Brague, "The Impossibility of Secular Society," First Things, October 2013, pp. 30, 31; emphasis in the original)

(This post was inspired by the above talk by Rémi Brague, an emeritus professor of the Sorbonne. Brague states his thesis at 7:45 of this video which is a talk given at Notre Dame that has since been edited and appears as the lead article in the latest issue of First Things under the title, "The Impossibility of Secular Society." Sorry, subscription required.)

Reading the stuff written by proponents of the Radical Two-Kingdom perversion of the historic Reformed doctrine of the proper spheres of authority and witness of the Church and her officers within the world and among civil magistrates, it's increasingly difficult to figure out where these men came from? They're an almost-complete novelty across church history, except perhaps among the pacifist Anabaptist tradition continuing today within the Mennonite, Hutterite, and Amish communities.

R2K men think that they occupy a demilitarized zone they believe was created for them under the rubrics of a "secular society" and so-called "separation of church and state." But of course, as I've said so many times before, there is no such thing as a secular state or society, nor is there such a thing as separation of church and state. What truly exists is a group of men who have agreed to act as if those fictions exist and who justify their various agendas by the skillful rhetorical employment of those fictions...

President Barack Obama and the late Senator Ted Kennedy employ secularism and separation of church and state as justifications for denying any voice that witnesses against the state's promotion of sodomitic unions and the slaughter of the unborn. "You may not appeal to religious beliefs in our secular society," they proclaim. And R2K men agree: "We may not appeal to religious beliefs in our secular society governed by a Constitution that decrees separation of church and state," they proclaim, adding: "And furthermore, our own Westminster Confession of Faith binds the Church and her officers to silence in such matters as the state's promotion of sodomitic unions and the slaughter of the unborn. As the Confession says:"

Synods and councils are to handle or conclude nothing but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary....

Of course, the gravitas of their case is not WCF: 31.4, but rather the principles of secularism and separation of church and state they so constantly remind us are the center of the genius of our nation's political union. To claim that 31.4 bars the Church and her officers from issuing public statements condemning the civil magistrate for promoting sodomitic unions and the wholesale slaughter of the unborn is to stand 31.4's exception "in cases extraordinary" on its head. If sodomy, bestiality, and the wholesale slaughter of little babies are not extraordinary cases, the phrase is meaningless.

The real thrust of the R2K revisionism takes us back to the Anabaptists' complete withdrawal from public life, but now at a time when persecution of the Christian conscience is exploding and Jesus Christ and His Truth are in in the process of being eviscerated from any visibility in the Western world. It's a simple case of "run and hide" looking for a principled justification for its retreat. Who wants to look like Jim Dobson, Jerry Falwell, or Jim Kennedy at this late date? "There's little time left to differentiate ourselves from these buffoons and, by that distancing, manage to hold on to our church buildings, seminaries, robes and hoods, colleges, and all the secular dignity they have conferred on us for all these peaceful years. We better make it clear we have no political designs on our nation and state before it's too late!"

And so, off they run to the public square aiming to keep it naked by locking their R2K arms and chanting:

One, two, three, four; secularism, secularism, we love you more!

Five, six, seven, eight; secularism separates church and state!

Nine, ten, eleven, twelve, spirituality of the church comes off the shelf!

Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen; parse the Confession 'til it's sterile and clean.

Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty; send Tom Monaghan back to Yipsilanti!

Last night I was reading the lead article of the latest issue of First Things, written by Rémi Brague and titled, "The Impossibility of Secular Society." That's a hint, and then Brague's first sentence: 

There is no such thing as a secular society.

So we're left choosing between Roman Catholic wisdom and R2K run-for-your-lifeism. Honestly, after reading these Escondido guys, I find myself wondering what part of our Biblical faith that was born again by the Holy Spirit through the just-shy-of-martyrdom witness of our Magisterial Reformers is left for them to parse into oblivion? And how ironic it is that God has seen fit to make the Roman Catholic church's doctors so much more faithful in the work of serving as the "pillar and foundation of the truth" today in on so many battlefronts than all the confessional Reformed doctors who claim to sit in the seat of Calvin and Luther.

If you can get your hands on a copy, do read the rest of Brague's article. Any simple Christian who knows his Bible and the works of the Magisterial Reformers directly, in their primary sources, will easily see that Brague and his fellow orthodox Roman Catholics are infinitely closer to the Apostles and Magisterial Reformers and Westminster Divines in matters of anthropology and culture and the Biblical doctrine of the relationship between civil and ecclesiastical authority than the R2K Westminster Seminary Escondido men could ever hope to be.

This is the tenth in a (so far) eleven-part series opposing the liberal theology called "Two Kingdom," "Radical Two-Kingdom," "Rigid Two Kingdom," or "Revisionist Two Kingdom," and abbreviated here simply as "R2K." Here's the first in this series, the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth, the seventh, the eighth, the ninth, the tenth, and the eleventhAnd here's a post subjecting R2K to an historical critique.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

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