Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Does it Really Matter If George Washington Took Communion or Not? II

For many months now Jon Rowe, Tom Van Dyke, and I have been discussing Jon's claim, via Dr. Gregg Frazer, that founding era Christians had to come up with new and creative ways to interpret the Bible to justify their resistance to what they perceived was tyranny. In short, Jon seems to think that these were "dissident" and "revisionist" views that were heavily influence by Enlightenment thinking. Tom Van Dyke and I point to the fact that resistance theory has a long tradition in both Catholic and Protestant political theology that, by far, pre-dates the Enlightenment.

This topic came up again in the comments section of Jon's post that references D.G. Hart's response to Peter Lillback. The discussion starts on the topic of whether there was a Hebrew Republic and gradually shifts to resistance theory and what is orthodox Christian political thought or not? Here is Tom Van Dyke setting the stage:

"That the Exodus was seen by the Founding era as not a liberation from the Pharaoh's bondage, but as an entry into an even worse theocratic bondage, is news to me."

To which Jon responds to here:

"That's the proper "orthodox" pre-Whig understanding of the Exodus narrative is what Frazer/Kraynak argue. The Tory ministers of the time argued something similar."

and here:

"Kraynak, Frazer, Zuckert all group GW, Jefferson and Langdon together as peddling the theistic rationalist Whig view of the Bible."

So essentially Jon is stating that anyone who argues that the Israelites left the bondage of Pharaoh to set up a Republic was inventing new rationalist tainted arguments to interpret the Bible. He then quoted Dr. Gregg Frazer referencing Robert Kraynak:

"God is not bound by the covenant and keeps His promises solely out of His own divine self-limitation.”

I responded here:

"If Frazer is doing this then he is breaking his own rules and interjecting Calvinism here. This is also not sotierological which opens up the door to a discussion of what political thought is "orthodox". I would say we need to broaden the years of his chart to get to the right answer."(referring to Frazer's chart on the LCD of orthodox at the founding)

My point was that Jon labels this point of view "orthodox" when it is really strict Calvinism and he references Frazer's chart on orthodoxy when this view has nothing to do with it. I also pointed out the fact that this view is not sotierological and turns the discussion away from a one on personal beliefs toward one about what political thought is "orthodox"? Which is the proper frame for this discussion to begin with.

Jon responds here:

"Gregg argues it was more than just Calvinism, but the view that PREVAILED in orthodox Christianity."

Then Jon shifts the discussion from the Hebrew Republic to resistance theory in response to my question about why we do not focus more on what is and is not "orthodox" political theory rather than sotierology. In doing so he turns the discussion back to Romans 13 and begins discussing Calvinism not orthodoxy, yet again:

"I know there are some pre-Enlightenment sources of resistance. And MDH shows that the reformers, contra Calvin, inspired a lot of this. But, at least as far as I understand, the pro-resistance stuff was dissonant, arguably heretical (like Arianism) within Christendom until post-Calvin.
The Calvinist "resisters" were just that -- dissidents. Eventually the dissident view prevailed."

I responded with the following:

"Not in America. Also I guess Aquinas was a dissident by Frazer's logic then."

Jon responded here:

"No we've studied Aquinas' views on the matter and he is at best for both sides inconclusive on the right to resistance.
The best view that PREVAILED (again prevailed doesn't mean find some dissident thinker like Arias who anticipated what came later) for your side was that an unjust law could be disobeyed because it was "not law" but that rulers, no matter how bad, didn't lose their Romans 13 status as rulers."

and added this as well:

"America was "founded" in the 18th Cen. and Dr. Dworetz focuses on a view that PREVAILED up until around the 16th Cen. and was endorsed by Calvin, Luther and counter reformers.
Something started happening around then that led America to follow a political theological point that was, at best, dissident and heretical for most of the history of Christianity. That's why I see parallels with theological unitarianism and the FFs view on revolt."

I responded with Aquinas and a few thoughts of my own:

"St. Thomas: “If any society of people have a right of choosing a king, then the king so established can be deposed by them without injustice, or his power can be curbed, when by tyranny he abuses his regal power” (“De Rege et Regno,” Bk. I, c. 6).
So was Aquinas dissident?
I am all for opening the discussion to a larger discussion of History beyond America. The trouble for you is that Frazer's thesis is dead on arrival if we do."

The trouble for Jon, and really Dr. Frazer whom Jon cites, is that to make resistance theory "dissident" you have to open the discussion up to more than American History, as he states, but when you do this it destroys your entire thesis because resistance theory was most certainly "orthodox" pre-Calvin. In fact, it could be argued that when one looks at the larger history of Christian thought that Calvin was the dissident and revisionist considering his seeming rejection of natural law.

I would restate the following from Jon above:

"Something started happening around then that led America to follow a political theological point that was, at best, dissident and heretical for most of the history of Christianity. That's why I see parallels with theological unitarianism and the FFs view on revolt."


Long before the American Revolution natural law began to be interjected back into Christian political theory and produced a stream of thought that impacted the founding generation that was heretical to John Calvin and the branch of his followers that agreed with his rejection of natural law.

When the thoughts of Aquinas on deposing kings are brought into the light it becomes evident as to why Frazer wants to keep the discussion fixated on his soteriological chart and ignore the more germane discussion of political theology/philosophy and how Judeo-Christian ideas, peppered with natural law, influenced the founding. I have to ask BOTH sides of this culture war, yet again:

Does it really matter whether George Washington took communion or not?

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