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Nov 29, 2007

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Darren

Michael,

This is an excellent post. My advisor at school recently printed Rerum Novarum for me, as we were discussing where I would like my studies to focus. I plan on getting to it soon. This post reminds me of some of Hauerwas' work- particularly his revulsion to Protestant liberalism's tendency to outsource the function of the church to the government. Have you read much of his work?

Darren

I am only beginning to study him (and a host of other thinkers in "political theology" and related fields) and it is challenging me in unexpected ways.

Michael W. Kruse

I haven't read a lot of Hauerwas. I did read "Resident Aliens" years ago. I want to go back and read that again. I also heard him speak last Spring. I from what I've read and heard he seems more anabaptist than I would care to go with.

If you are reading RN, then you might also want to check out John Paul II's encyclical "Centesimus Annus" written on the 100th anniversary of "Rerum Novarum."

Darren

He does have some similarities to the Anabaptist tradition, but from what I've encountered (which is only a fraction) his thought and writing is much broader.
What about the Anabaptist tradition do you disagree with in particular?
My advisor also printed Centesimus Annus, so I'll eventually get to that too.

Michael W. Kruse

Darren, I know there is diversity within the Anabaptist world. (I grew up in Wesleyan version of it.) I think my central critique is that Anabaptist thinking draws to neat a line between kingdoms. Human existence in culture is more organically interrelated and can’t be as neatly delineated as Yoder and others would like. Yoder views government as evil but a necessary consequence of the fall. I disagree. I think the cultural mandate of filling the earth and having dominion over it presupposes humanity developing governmental institutions to manage their affairs. Rather than seeing the Kingdom of God as primarily cut off from society as an isolated counter-culture, I understand the Kingdom of God to infusing human culture and transforming it. Those are some general differences.

RonMck

Michael
Another good post in an excellent series. This one is a really dangerous fallacy. I have just a couple of comments.

Firstly, you see biblical justice as centered on the family. The family was set within the clan and the tribe. The problem, I am thinking about at the moment is that the clan and tribe are well gone, but biblical justice does not work without that context. I doubt that we can bring clan and tribe back, so what do we want to replace them with. Some just replace them with the state, but I do not believe that that is the answer. I am thinking that the church will have to fulfil the role of the tribe if we are going to achieve a more biblical form of justice.

Secondly, your characterization of libertarians sounds quite unfair. You seem to be describing a libertine, rather than libertarians, when you write about them as “disdaining tradition and values”. They are not keen on tradition, but they do have values.

Thirdly, it is one thing to say that the state does not equal society. The more challenging, and perhaps more important, task is to define the role of the state. I find that most Christians like to keep the state in their hip pocket and trot it out when they want to impose their values on other people. Interestingly, some of the clearest thinking about the role of the state has been done by libertarian political thinkers. They are mostly atheists, so they do not arrive at a Christian position, but they do delineate the issues in a way that sharpens thinking. I suspect that many Christians are unwilling to think seriously on these issues, because they remain closet statists, whose faith in the state to bring change is greater than their faith in the gospel and the Holy Spirit.

Michael W. Kruse

Thanks Ron!

You wrote:

"I am thinking that the church will have to fulfil the role of the tribe if we are going to achieve a more biblical form of justice."

Yes! I think that is exactly right. And maybe there are cells within congregations and congregations linked to other congregations.

As to libertarian, there are varieties. I tried to avoid a universal statement but maybe not well enough. Ayn Rand and many other influential theorists advocate an atheistic (at least agnostic) individual freedom. There are strong strains of this in American libertarianism and I think some Christians have unwittingly become captive to this thinking. It is this I'm reacting against. It is the difference between being free for the sake of self-actualization versus being freedom for the sake of choosing service to Christ.

I fully agree that libertarian critique has been very useful and we need more of it. I also agree that…

“…many Christians are unwilling to think seriously on these issues, because they remain closet statists, whose faith in the state to bring change is greater than their faith in the gospel and the Holy Spirit.”

Mark Van Steenwyk

Excellent, and challenging, series.

Your critique of Anabaptistm is that it draws a neat line between kingdoms (I think there is more diversity within Anabaptism than that). But at the same time I see you drawing too simple of a distinction between Government and Society, where government is one institution among many in society. There is certainly a way in which this is true...and I agree that they aren't the same thing. But the state is intertwined with civil society to such a degree that no true boundaries can be drawn between them. I'd encourage you (if you have the time) to read William Cavanaugh's Theopolitical Imagination.

Michael W. Kruse

Thanks Mark. You wrote:

"But at the same time I see you drawing too simple of a distinction between Government and Society, where government is one institution among many in society."

Interesting comparison, Mark. I think there area some differences. I see the "Kingdom of God" as more of a movement than an institution. It is a way being, a way of being oriented, that permeates all of life. I think the Church is an expression of the Kingdom at work in the world but the Church is not equivalent of the Kingdom.

In contrast, the various spheres of life have greater delineation. They tend to have their own specific institutions. Families are formed by marriage with clear lines of membership and responsibilities/obligations. Businesses have licenses or articles of incorporation. There are owners, employees, and limited responsibilities/obligations related to the specific economic pursuit. Governments have citizens that elect/appoint that form institutions like legislatures, executive offices, and courts. While they do all interrelate there are sufficient boundaries to see them as discreet entities.

I think some Anabaptists functionally have a view that the church is sphere that stands apart from and in opposition to the other spheres. I’m suggesting that the “Kingdom of God” is a movement that enters, transforms, and redeems the church, and every other institution in society, through self-giving love in Christ.

I don’t mean to be picking on Anabaptists here. I think the various streams of Anabaptist thought bring some important critique to the table. I’m just trying to show where I think the critique is weak.

Interesting that should mention Cavanaugh’s book. I had just ordered it this week at Amazon. Great minds think alike. :)

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