Sunday, January 31, 2010

Christ, Kingdom, and Culture, Part 3: VanDrunen

Continuing our reflections on Westminster Seminary’s annual conference on the topic of Christ, Kingdom, and Culture, the third lecture, titled “Christ and the State,” was given by David VanDrunen.

VanDrunen made a great point about how that we must be careful not to equate the civil kingdom with the state and thereby collapse into the state all other civil endeavors or concerns. States can be oppressive and tyrannical, he argued, and there needs to be a sufficient decentralization of power in order to guarantee some sovereignty to things like education and the arts.

One point that VanDrunen was careful to make was that the state, though a post-fall phenomenon, is nonetheless a legitimate institution and sword-wielder. Quoting Calvin, he insisted that “tyranny is better than anarchy.” (Just a quibble, but I am not convinced of how helpful this point is, since the term “anarchism,” when used today, inevitably evokes the idea of chaos while ignoring its political and economic definition, which is basically synonymous with “libertarianism” or “socialism,” properly understood.)

The issue of civil disobedience also came up. VanDrunen argues that it is never proper for a believer to seek to fight against religious persecution by means of the carnal weaponry of the state or its courts. If memory serves, he believes the same rules apply in the civil realm as well, meaning that it any form of civil disobedience to lawfully ordained magistrates is wrong, unless they compel us to disobey God’s law.

To tip my hat to the just-deceased Howard Zinn, I would respectfully disagree here. While I do think a Christian should never resist religious persecution but rather endure it as an example of Christ-like cross-bearing, I do think it’s legitimate for the believer to fight against injustices that arise for non-religious reasons (such as during the civil rights movement), as long as such resistance (1) is non-violent, and (2) doesn’t violate the Westminster Confession and invoke our spiritual liberty as a reason to resist civil oppression (I wrote about this topic here, here, and here).

OK, discuss away....