Monday, January 4, 2010

Frazer's Hermeneutic And the History of Orthodox Christian Political Theology

With Editorial Suggestions by Jonathan Rowe

My last few posts argued American Founding era political theology created a "Big Tent of Diverse Interests" that allowed various Christian factions of the country to put aside the doctrinal differences that privately divided them and embrace political ideas that publiclyunited them.

This post continues in that vein.

I stressed that two God terms in the Declaration of Independence were added by the Continental Congress to appeal to Calvinists. This, I think, strengthened the connection between the political-theology of the DOI and Calvinistic notions of interposition.

Then, to better inform myself on the matter, I just carefully read the exchange between Jim Babka and Gregg Frazer that was part of "Romans 13 round 1." You will see Babka and I, for the most part, agree on Romans 13 & Christian history. We stress how Dr. Frazer downplays the later Calvinists (not necessarily Calvin himself) like Rutherford whose teachings on "interposition" transition into those of the Declaration of Independence.

As Dr. Frazer wrote:

A second argument THAT I DID NOT MAKE which you refute at great length is the idea that everyone who supported the Revolution (or the idea of revolution) was Unitarian and that “Unitarianism was required to get around” Divine Right of Kings. I SAID NO SUCH THING – nor did I imply it. I said (and I quote): “one must move away from Calvin (whether to Arminianism or Unitarianism) in order to support the revolution.” Your extensive quest to show trinitarian support for revolution is interesting, but irrelevant. No one denied that one could be trinitarian and support the Revolution. You then list a number of Calvinists who supported revolution, but I never denied that people identifying themselves as Calvinists supported revolution. I said that Calvin did not and that many churches held Calvin’s view and that that was a hurdle which had to be overcome – hence, the significance of Mayhew’s landmark sermon (which would not have been landmark if Rutherford’s view were the norm).

I also did not say or even imply that Unitarians “had the next largest plurality” after Calvinists – I said nothing about unitarianism as a denomination. I also said nothing about Calvinist denominations in terms of percentages of churches – I spoke about the theology. I said (and I quote again): “Calvin’s view was the majority view in the century leading up to the Revolution.” [emphasis added] One need not be a Calvinist or a member of one of the 1300 Calvinist churches (compared to <900 Baptist/Episcopalian/Anglican churches) to hold Calvin’s view of Romans 13 and against revolution. That view – based on what Romans 13 actually says -- was the majority view throughout the history of the church up to that point. Jonathan Boucher and Samuel Seabury (for example) were prominent Anglican ministers who argued the traditional literal (and biblical) view of Romans 13 and against revolution.

This begs the question: Why is Frazer's view of unlimited submission that dominated Christendom until the age of revolution given any special historical weight when, for over the past 200 plus years, Christianity -- indeed orthodox Christianity -- reconciled itself with the permissibility of revolt as per Romans 13 (under certain circumstances)?

Indeed, keep in mind, dissident strains within Christendom intimated the permissibility of revolt for hundreds of years before the American Revolution.

My co-blogger Jon Rowe noted my main issue with Frazer is that we have two different hermeneutics. Perhaps yes, but, I argue mine, like Mayhew before me, is taken straight from the Bible's text and is just as historically Christian and valid as Frazer's. In fact, after reading what Calvin actually stated, I believe mine might even be John Calvin's.

Before my next post on Calvin's view on Interposition I pose the following questions:

1. Is the Mayhew interpretation of Romans 13 straight from the Bible's text?

2. Is that interpretation historically Christian?

3. Does Mayhew's interpretation fit with Calvinistic notions of "interposition"?

If we answer yes to all three, that would explain why enough Presbyterians joined the American Revolution such that it was termed a "Presbyterian Parson’s rebellion."

Before I end, here is one quote from John Adams on Romans 13 recited in his Proclamation of 1799 to keep in mind. Ask how "Christian" this quote sounds to you.

"that He would bless all magistrates, from the highest to the lowest, give them the true spirit of their station, make them a terror to evil doers and a praise to them that do well;"

--John Adams

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