My essay on immigration is up at Mere Orthodoxy. I argue that Christians can and in most cases ought to support tight immigration restrictions.
See the essay here.
My essay on immigration is up at Mere Orthodoxy. I argue that Christians can and in most cases ought to support tight immigration restrictions.
See the essay here.
The following are quotes from Reformed theologians on the possibility of pagans achieving civil righteousness (see my previous post on the subject).
“In political life even an infidel may be called just, innocent, and upright because of [their external and civil life of words, deeds and works], since they have “natural knowledge of and inclination towards the Decalogue.” Althusius, Politica pg. 147 (Liberty Fund)
“The excellent virtues and deeds of renown, which are found among
heathen nations, belong, indeed, to the vestiges or remains of the image of God, still preserved in the nature of man; but there is so much wanting, to constitute that true and perfect image of God, which was at first apparent in man, that these virtues are only certain shadows of external propriety, without the obedience of the heart to God, whom they neither know nor worship. Therefore, these works do not please God, since they do not proceed from a proper knowledge of him, and are not done with the intention of glorifying him.” Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism
“The difference which exists between the works of the righteous and the wicked, goes to prove that the moral works of the wicked are sins, but yet not such sins as those which are in their own nature opposed to the law of God: for these are sins in themselves, and according to their very nature, while the moral works of the wicked are sins merely by an accident; viz., on account of some defect, either because they do not proceed from a true faith, or are not done to the glory of God.” Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism 91.1
“Proof that there is a natural law is found in the “consent of the nations, among whom (even the most savage) some law of the primitive nations obtains, from which even without a teacher they have learned that God should be worshipped, parents honored, a virtuous life be led and from which as a fountain have flowed so many laws concerning equity and virtue enacted by heathen legislators, drawn from nature itself. And if certain laws are found among some repugnant to these principles, they were even with reluctance received and observed by a few, at length abrogated by contrary laws, and have fallen into desuetude.” Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (IET), 11.1.13
“We do not deny that some strength still remains in man after the fall as to those external and civil good works, so that he can exercise justice and temperance, put forth acts of mercy and charity, abstain from theft and homicide, and exhibit the operations of similar virtues, with the antecedent concourse and general help of God, to which the virtues of the heathen belong.” Turretin, IET, 10.4.3
“Although some of the heathen (comparatively considered and in relation to each other) may have been better than others; although their works civilly and morally speaking may be called virtues, and so followed by the double reward of a well-regulated life, both positive (as productive of some temporal good and peace of conscience in this world) and negative (as making their punishment more tolerable), nevertheless (theologically speaking and relatively to God) their works best in form were nothing than more splendid sins and in the sight of God worthy of no reward.” IET, 1.4.17
“With respect to the moral commandments of the second table of the law there is always much agreement among the nations, inasmuch as the work of the law continues to be written on their hearts.” Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatic (RD),. 3.134
The doctrine of the incapacity for good is a religious confession. In light of the standard people usually follow in their daily life or in philosophic ethics, one can wholeheartedly admit that much of what people do is good and beautiful.” Bavinck, RD 3.123
“Since after the fall people have remained human and continue to share in the blessings of God’s common grace, they can inwardly possess many virtues and outwardly do many good deeds that, viewed through human eyes and measured by human standards, are greatly to be appreciated and of great value for human life. But this is not to say that they are good in the eyes of God and correspond to the full spiritual sense of his holy law.” Bavinck, RD 4.257
“The denial to man of all ability, whether natural or moral, to turn himself to God or to do that which is truly good in God’s sight, does not imply a denial of man’s power to order his external life in many particulars conformably to moral rules, or even to attain the praise of men for virtue.” A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, 642
“This inability is asserted only in reference to ‘the things of the Spirit.’ It is admitted in all the Confessions above quoted that man since the fall has not only the liberty of choice of self-determination, but also is able to perform moral acts, good as well as evil. He can be kind and just, and fulfill his social duties in a manner to secure the approbation of his fellow-men. It is not meant that the state of mind in which these acts are performed, or the motives by which they are determined, are such as to meet the approbation of an infinitely holy God; but simply that these acts, as to the matter of them, are prescribed by the moral law.” Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology II.8.15.5
If it is the case that fallen, unregenerate man can attain civil righteousness (worthy of praise among men, even from the regenerate) and if regeneration necessarily effects a radical change in the one regenerated, then the principal effect of regeneration cannot be civil righteousness, political, social, or anything related to the basic elements of civil or domestic life. The principal effect must be something else. It must be, then, the restoration of one’s immediate relationship to God, one’s orientation to the spiritual (yet-to-be-visible) kingdom of God, and true worship of God. In short, the principal effect is the adventitious infusing of heavenly gifts and the outward change in religion. The Gospel then is not essentially political, social, or anything earthly other than the true public worship of God.
After Ted Cruz suspended his campaign last week, a flurry of blog posts from evangelical and Reformed Christians massed on the internet both denouncing Trump’s evangelical supporters and calling for a radical renewal of Christian political participation.
Russel Moore, for example, links support for Trump to “nativism” and “white supremacy.” He says that there is “bigotry all over the country” with “not-so-code messages denouncing African-American and immigrants.” And he reiterates that voting for Trump is to “embrace nativism or white supremacy.” That’s a pretty serious charge. To vote for Trump is to support white supremacy, bigotry, the hatred of immigrants, and “nativism” (whatever that means to him).
Matthew Anderson stated that “voting is, and always has been, a moral act,” which presumably means that one’s vote can be immoral. In an earlier essay, he calls Trump a charlatan, huckster, a con-man, and shameless. He calls for evangelicals who support him to “repent.” He says that they are trying to defeat “political correctness through wickedness” and supporting him is tantamount to divorcing “our political commitments from our interest in the Gospel.”
Pastor Steven Wedgeworth argues that “politically-engaged Christians” need to stand against both Trump and the Republican Party, and he agrees with most of Anderson’s arguments. Voting for Trump, he argues, “will be a total abdication of Christian moral witness.”
These are serious charges. Voting for Trump is a serious moral failure. So I wonder: what about church discipline? Consider the following:
(1) All immoral actions are possible matters for church discipline.
(2) One’s vote can be an immoral act.
(3) Therefore, immoral voting can be a matter of church discipline.
As for (1), the emphasis is on possible, since there are important considerations here. The first is we must distinguish between gray areas and obvious sins. You might judge the eating of Sonic burgers to be gluttonous and irresponsible, but that conclusion is not obvious, making a confrontation questionable. The obvious sins are violations of principles and clear and demonstrable moral failures—the type that would cause the pious to flee, denounce (e.g., call wicked) and call for repentance.
As for (2), Moore, Anderson, and Wedgeworth do not explicitly call voting for Trump “sinful,” but palling around with white supremacists, taking part in “wickedness,” and abandoning “Christian moral witness” would seem to be sinful. If not, I wonder what is sinful.
And (3) follows necessarily from (1) and (2). Hence,
(2a) Voting for Trump is an immoral act.
(3a) Voting for Trump can be a matter of church discipline.
The immediate response is, “but censuring political voting isn’t something the church should do.” But this is special pleading. If a few people in your congregation are willing to vote against the “Christian moral witness,” which would dishonor Christ (an end of church discipline Calvin identifies), shouldn’t the church be involved? The Trump voters take part in a “cynical” party that alienates moderate and leftists (says Wedgeworth). They take part in “wickedness,” says Anderson. And all three present their judgment as an obvious one—so obvious that they call for a break from the Republican Party. If voting is a “moral act,” then one would have to show some non-ad hoc justification for keeping this type of act out of church discipline. Would this justification give a pass to voting for Stalin or Hitler?
The sin of Trump-voting, as presented, is a serious sin, and not merely a private one, but a public sin—one that affects the well-being of minorities and immigrants (says Moore). It is an unloving act towards one’s neighbor. How could support for white supremacy be excusable? How could that escape church discipline?
I ask this to the three: how can the sin of supporting Trump be so dishonorable to Christ and yet not a matter for church discipline?
Denying that it is a matter of church discipline undermines the charge that voting for The Donald is a serious sin—a modus tollens. And if it is not a serious sin, then is it hard to find support for leaving the Republican Party and propping up an opposition candidate. Indeed, an unwillingness to make it a matter of church discipline, undermines most of their arguments.
Many Reformed theologians acknowledged the virtue of pagans and their ability to know the natural law as it relates to human social relations—even to the point of acknowledging a sort of natural sociability. Reformed theologians “have always fully acknowledged,” writes Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck,
the existence and moral value of [the virtue of pagans.] Since after the fall people have remained human and continue to share in the blessings of God’s common grace, they can inwardly possess many virtues and outwardly do many good deeds that, viewed through human eyes and measured by human standards, are greatly to be appreciated and of great value for human life. But this is not to say that they are good in the eyes of God and correspond to the full spiritual sense of his holy law.
Calvin affirms a distinction between “earthly” objects (“matters of policy and economy, all mechanical arts, and liberal studies”) and “heavenly” objects (“true righteousness and future blessedness”), and when man is focused on the former he can achieve “some result,” proving that “some principle of civil order is impressed on all. And this is ample proof that…no man is devoid of the light of reason.” Though man “lost all understanding” on matters related to heaven, not all was lost on earthly matters. Man can still be “very acute and sagacious” on earthly matters, but not on heavenly matters. Man’s “supernatural” virtues—those which relate to heaven and the eschaton, such as “the light of faith and righteousness”—were “withdrawn,” but the natural gifts were only “corrupted,” ensuring that there is still “civil order impressed on all.”
Hence, within the Reformed framework there is potential great optimism concerning man’s ability to reach sound conclusions on natural duties. This is why the Reformed political theorist, Johannes Althusius can consistently state, “But in political life even an infidel may be called just, innocent, and upright.” Turretin argues for the existence of the natural law by citing the “consent of the nations, among whom…”
some law of the primitive nations obtains, from which even without a teacher they have learned that God should be worshipped, parents honored, a virtuous life be led and from which as a fountain have flowed so many laws concerning equity and virtue enacted by heathen legislators, drawn from nature itself. And if certain laws are found among some repugnant to these principles, they were even with reluctance received and observed by a few, at length abrogated by contrary laws, and have fallen into desuetude.
More evidence and analysis to come…
 Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit, Church and New Creation Translated by John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 256-7.
 Calvin, Institutes, 2.2.13.
 Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Isaiah 44:18.
 See Calvin, Institutes, 2.2.13.
 Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Isaiah, 44:18.
 See Calvin, Institutes, 2.2.12, 13.
 Johannes Althusius, Politica: An Abridged Translation of Politics Methodically Set Forth and Illustrated with Sacred and Profane Examples, ed. and Trans. Frederick S. Carney (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1964), 147. The Canons of Dordt (1619), a major statement of Reformed theology, states that fallen man “shows some regard for virtue and for good outward behavior” (3/4.4).
 Turretin, 11.1.13. Emphasis mine.
You can’t avoid city-on-the-hill talk in American elections. Every presidential election season since Reagan must include numerous references to Winthrop’s sermon “A Model of Christian Charity” by those advocating a “return” to American greatness and those complaining about those “dominionist” or theocratic Christian Rightists.
Much could be said on the use of the sermon over the last few decades, but I think it would be useful to place Winthrop’s sermon in his context and see what the text actually says.
1. The sermon was not published, nor widely known, until the mid-19th century. The New York Historical Society first published it in 1838. Between 1630 and 1809, the Winthrop family had possession of the only known manuscript, and it received little attention in the 19th century. So the sermon did not directly influence the development of New England puritanism, colonial politics and society, and the American founding. It had very little significance until Reagan’s appropriation of it. This calls into question John Fea’s recently claim in Christianity Today that “Ever since the Puritan John Winthrop said that the Massachusetts Bay Colony was a ‘city on a hill’ Americans have seen themselves as God’s chosen people—a new Israel with a special destiny.” The American belief in some special destiny did not come from Winthrop’s sermon, at least not until very recently.
2. Most of the sermon is a discussion on social harmony, brotherly affections, rich/poor relations, lending, forgiving debts, and obligations in community emergencies. What ties the people together, claims Winthrop, is love. The irony is that despite the almost exclusive recent use of the sermon by Republicans, the sermon could be used (though wrongly, I think) by left-liberals to argue for robust government programs for distributive justice. Here’s example:
All the parts of this body being thus united are made so contiguous in a special relation as they must needs partake of each other’s strength and infirmity, joy and sorrow, weal and woe. (1 Cor. 12:26) If one member suffers, all suffer with it; if one be in honor, all rejoice with it.
The primary focus of the sermon is internal, not external. There is no call for foreign interventionism, nothing about making the world safe for puritanism, and nothing about some inherent superiority over other nations. Winthrop’s concern throughout the sermon is the relationship of the people in the community. He hoped that the community, by displaying social harmony in mutual love, would serve as an example for future “plantations” and not be a “by-word through the world” due to any false dealing with God.
3. Many misunderstand what Winthrop meant by “city upon a hill.” He never used the word “shining” in the sermon. He did not say “shining city upon a hill.” Here is what he said in context:
Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck, and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us, as His own people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways, so that we shall see much more of His wisdom, power, goodness and truth, than formerly we have been acquainted with. We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when He shall make us a praise and glory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, “may the Lord make it like that of New England.” For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God’s sake. We shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.
First, notice that brotherly love is what ought to be on display, not power, wealth, or international control. But more important is that being a city on a hill simply means that the “eyes of all people are upon us.” It does not mean that the city is shining; it could be dark. Winthrop’s point is that the Massachusetts Bay Colony could be either an example to follow for future plantations or an example of what to avoid. So Winthrop is not claiming that as a city upon a hill that the colony has a special divine destiny. The whole point is that “the eyes of all people are upon you.” They are a spectacle to others, good or bad. Be an example for others who attempt this experiment, he commands the people.
And what is interesting about the experiment is that it is not socially radical. The first few paragraphs of the sermon affirm natural social hierarchy (and see here). There is nothing radical in the discussion on lending and debt forgiveness either. The exceptional nature of the experiment is something else, which I discuss next.
4. Some people accuse Winthrop of a type of puritan arrogance. After all, he thought that their socially harmonious and godly colony would be the example for others to follow and that the eyes of the world are fixed on them. However, simply reading the sermon would temper, I suspect, any charge of arrogance. True, Winthrop says that the people have covenanted with each other and God to be a godly people (which would not be considered arrogant among Calvinists of his time), but let’s consider also the historical context. Winthrop is giving a sermon to a people who are truly doing something unique. They are traveling to settle in a land largely unsettled by Europeans. It is an incredible opportunity. So what would you say to such a group? “Ok guys, we know that this will likely fail. So let’s be realistic about things and not set a high standard for ourselves. We don’t want people in the future to think we’re arrogant puritans.” The critic of Winthrop would be a terrible coach for the underdog team. When leaders begin something momentous and dangerous, they seek to inspire people to do their best. They are not always realistic, nor ought they be.
Perhaps Winthrop thought of it all as realistic, but it doesn’t matter. The sermon marked the beginning of a momentous event, and for that reason whatever unrealistic standard Winthrop set is perfectly justified. Just imagine a pastor of a new church and new congregation, fully aware that many, if not most, established churches in history went apostate or at least liberal, being realistic: “yes, congregation, your great grandchildren will probably be liberal apostates. So let’s not have high hopes here. Let’s keep it real.” Would any of us accept that? Wouldn’t we rather want to hear a pastor say, “Let us, through our mutual service and love for one another, be an example for existing churches and new churches. Their eyes are upon you.” Yet we can’t accept such optimism from Winthrop.
We need to place Winthrop in context. Regardless of the antipathy you might have towards “American exceptionalism” don’t blame Winthrop for it. He had nothing to do with it. Winthrop did his duty as a Christian leader. He sought the best from his people, and he deserves our praise for it.
Though I usually avoid internet confrontations, a controversy has surfaced that I must address. Apologia Radio, a group of internet broadcasters that offers “Christian radio programming” that “boldly confronts the hard issues of today,” posted an interview with Tony Lauinger, a man who has worked in pro-life organizations for over 35 years and is the state chairman of Oklahomans for Life, and subsequent commentary that is nothing short of defamation. Though it might at first seem shocking, Mr Lauinger and his organization have made public their opposition to Oklahoma bill SB 1118, a bill that would criminalize abortion in the state. He has reasons for opposing it, which he states in the interview and I discuss below. The purpose of this post is to call the people at Apologia Radio, especially Jeff Durbin and Marcus Pittman, to issue a formal apology to Mr. Lauinger for both misrepresenting his positions and unjustly attacking his character.
The title of the interview, as posted on Facebook and their website, is “Interview with Hypocrisy.” The accompanying text with the post calls the interview “shocking,” and in the comment boxes “Apologia Radio” and others associated with the organization call Mr. Lauinger a “coward.” They claim that he represents everything that is wrong with the pro-life movement and that he is responsible for the abortions in Oklahoma.
What is striking about the lead commentary and the comments on Facebook is the utter unwillingness for Mr. Durbin and others to correctly and honestly articulate Mr. Lauinger’s arguments. Mr. Durbin in his opening commentary on the interview video either completely misunderstands Mr. Lauinger’s argument or is deliberately committing a straw-man. I will discuss the arguments below.
But first I want my reader to just take a superficial look at both the interview and the public response from Apologia Radio. By all accounts, Mr. Lauinger is a gentleman, thoughtful, friendly, and respectful. And even Mr. Durbin comes off as respectful, gracious, patient, and courteous in the interview. In the end, one would think that there was constructive disagreement, mutual respect and friendliness between fellow pro-life workers. But no. Apologia Radio played the game of “gotcha.” They lured Mr. Lauinger in and got their sound bites, and then they proceeded to publicly denounce him and attack his character — calling him a hypocrite and a coward. It is all terribly unbecoming, and the reaction says more about the character of those at Apologia Radio than Mr. Lauinger. Some respect, at least, was in order for a man who has spent decades fighting to end abortion. Instead, we witness nothing but the typical millennial dismissal of age and experience. The use of this “gotcha” tactic against Mr. Lauinger, by itself, is enough to call Apologia Radio to issue an apology. Now on to the substance of the interview.
Mr. Lauinger made three main arguments, each either misrepresented or dismissed by the interviewer and his associates.
The first argument concerns the bill itself. Mr. Lauinger argues that SB 1118 is not only pointless but also counterproductive. The bill states that “a person commits murder in the first degree when that person performs an abortion in violation of the provisions of this section.” The provision states that “No person shall perform or induce or attempt to perform or induce an abortion after conception.” The bill effectively criminalizes all abortion.
One would think that the organization “Oklahomans for Life” and Mr. Lauinger would support this legislation, but they do not for specific and, I think, well-founded reasons. The bill is essentially an amendment of existing statutes, and the current statutes include both the Heartbeat Informed Consent Act and the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. The former act forces abortion providers to ask the mother whether she would like to listen to the unborn child’s heartbeat before performing the abortion, and the latter act criminalized abortion after “twenty or more weeks” postfertilization. SB 1118 changes existing law by eliminating the latter from law and amending the former making it “unlawful for an abortion provider to perform or induce an abortion if an embryonic or fetal heartbeat is detected.” (This seems to contradict the outright ban. I’m not sure how this plays out in the legislative process and law.) What is most important is that the ban on abortion at twenty or more weeks is no longer law, if SB 1118 passes.
Mr. Lauinger’s concern is that if Oklahoma passes SB 1118, the state and federal courts will declare both the complete ban on abortion and the amended Heartbeat Act to be unconstitutional. And if that occurs, the two acts that prevented some abortions will not return to the statutes. The pro-life cause then loses all that it has worked for. The result is the there will be more abortions than before, since the twenty or more weeks ban has been removed from state law. Mr. Lauinger’s argument is one that conforms to a clear principle of prudence.
Some have claimed that if the courts stall the implementation or strike down the complete ban on abortion, the other statutes will remain in effect. But even the language of the bill states otherwise. Near the end, the bill states, “The provisions of this act are severable and if any part or provision shall be held void the decision of the court so holding shall not affect or impair any of the remaining parts or provisions of this act.” The courts could, even according to the law itself, declare unconstitutional only the complete ban while leaving the elimination of the Pain-Capable Act. The result would be more abortions than before, since the removal of the ban on abortions at twenty or more weeks postfertilization remains removed from law.
When Apologia Radio folks are confronted with this argument, they respond with calls for armed resistance to federal tyranny, including having sheriffs, national guard, and civil magistrates take arms. Let’s assume that that is actually a principled response. Still, is it likely to happen? Is there realistic support among the people suggesting that they are willing to risk a violent confrontation with the Federal government? I doubt it. Perhaps there is, however. But nobody from Apologia Radio has offered anything resembling a plan to bring such resistance about.
One response is simply to dismiss Lauinger’s “incrementalism,” and perhaps there is a case against incrementalism in general, but when applied to this case, the anti-incrementalists show themselves incapable of reasoning clearly. Presented before us is a dilemma: either long-term incremental changes in laws and hearts and minds or a ban on abortion now at all costs. There is a third option: we do nothing. This one, of course, is unacceptable. So we are left with our original dilemma. As we saw above, banning abortion now by passing SB 1118 actually results in more abortions, at least that is Mr. Lauinger’s reasonable and supportable argument. At the same time, incrementalism has, even on Mr. Durbin’s admission, prevented some abortions. So the dilemma, when each one’s consequences are determined, is between preventing some abortions and preventing as many abortions as the third option prevents, which is zero. So it turns out that choosing “end abortion now” has the same result as if we did nothing. The do-nothing crowd, then, has, ironically, an ally in the end-abortion-now crowd. Choose wisely.
My discussion and expansion of Mr. Lauinger’s argument from prudence shows that the Apologia Radio’s accusation of hypocrisy is unjust. Hypocrisy, roughly defined, is failing to live up to one’s self-declared ideal. Mr. Lauinger would be a hypocrite only if he thought that passing the bill would actually accomplish his stated end. Since he does not think that it will, he is not a hypocrite for opposing it. Yes, the purpose of the bill is to end abortion, but the implementation of the bill is highly unlikely and would likely make matters worse. One is not a hypocrite for opposing something whose purpose would meet one’s self-declared end yet will not meet the end due to circumstances.
The second criticism of Mr. Lauigner is that he refuses to call the women who had an abortion a murderer. Now let’s be clear up front on his position. He fully supports the eventual criminalization of abortion, as he claimed in the interview. So he is united with Apologia Radio on the ultimate end of pro-life work. The difference concerns the means, as described above. Furthermore, the refusal to label the woman a murderer does not mean that one cannot call abortion murder. Even SB 1118 does not call the woman the murderer, only the one who “performs” the abortion. The abortion provider is the murderer, making an abortion a murder. The mother’s status is irrelevant to the labeling of the event. As he said in the interview, the classification of one’s culpability is based on circumstances, and the relevance of circumstance in culpability goes back at least to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Mr. Lauinger argued that quite often the woman is under pressure from her family, boyfriend, or husband to get the abortion; and workers in crisis pregnancy centers have told me that most women who come in are profoundly ignorant of what is in their body.
My purpose here is not to establish clear criteria of what constitutes murder and a murderer. I simply want to point out that it is not “shocking” that someone might not want to declare the woman who had an abortion a murderer. Given the history of moral reasoning and legal categories on the degree of culpability, it is not immediately obvious what the correct answer is. And Apologia Radio has provided no reasoned argument for their position. They have demonstrated only shock and moral outrage.
The final criticism of Mr. Lauinger is that he wants to use “secular” arguments against abortion with non-Christians, not call them to “repent and believe and Gospel.” Some find this indicative of belief in “neutrality” and others blame his Roman Catholicism. This criticism is not surprising. Those at Apologia Radio, to my knowledge, are committed to presuppositionalist apologetics along Van Tilian lines, so they naturally reject “neutrality” or common ground between Christian and non-Christian. I’m not going to directly engage this issue here. I simply will point out that most Reformed theologians, until recently, held to a sort of common ground – a realm in which both the Christian and non-Christian share the same knowledge of God the Creator and his laws. The Christian sees it all clearer, but, nonetheless, the non-Christian knows the principles of morality and justice. Calvin himself claimed that fallen man shows that he is not “devoid of the light of reason,” that he “cherishes” society, and is drawn to the formation of civil order and decency (See Institutes 2.2.13). Francis Turretin affirmed that there is “in man a natural law written upon each one’s conscience excusing and accusing them in good and bad actions, which therefore necessarily implies the knowledge of God, the legislator, by whose authority it binds men to obedience and proposes rewards and punishments” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology 1.3.5). He even says that the “heathen” can have virtue (1.4.17 & 10.5.2,6). Turretin also argues that “the manner of dealing with them [i.e., non-Christians] can be either theological (by arguments found in scripture) or philosophical, so that by the principles of reason the prejudices against the Christian religion drawn from corrupt reason may be removed” (1.9.23)
Much more could be said on this, but it is sufficient to say that the Reformed tradition has recognized a certain common ground in which we may operate to convince non-Christians or appeal to their moral sense of what is good and what is bad. I’m not sure what those at Apologia Radio would say to Turretin and the broader Reformed tradition, but at least they should not be “shocked” by the use of reason apart from revelation. Their own tradition (and I would argue most within that tradition) recognize the legitimacy of such philosophical inquiry and methods of argumentation.
To my knowledge, I have responded to the main reasons for Mr. Durbin’s shock and awe. By all accounts, Mr. Lauinger is a reasonable, prudent, and thoughtful man who deserves praise, not ridicule and attacks on his character. He is certainly not hypocritical. For these reasons, Jeff Durbin and all those associated with Apologia Radio need to issue a public apology to Tony Lauinger for both misrepresenting his arguments and unjustly attacking his character.
Anyone who claims to take seriously the theological witness of the past cannot avoid the fact that Christians, until recently, have considered social and political inequality to be not a necessary evil, but a good in itself. They believed in a natural inequality. Inequality, properly constituted, is a higher, more complete, form of society than one of social equality.
If you’ve followed this blog, you know that I’ve posted a few articles on Christianity and inequality (see here, here, here, and here) and a series on why I consider Calvin more medieval than modern (here). I list more quotes here, especially more from Calvin. I have also included a small list of quotes from non-theologians and philosophers on inequality.
Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274):
Under the question “Whether in the state of innocence man would have been master over man?,” he writes (Summa Theologica 1.96.4):
But a man is the master of a free subject, by directing him either towards his proper welfare, or to the common good. Such a kind of mastership would have existed in the state of innocence between man and man, for two reasons.
First, because man is naturally a social being, and so in the state of innocence he would have led a social life. Now a social life cannot exist among a number of people unless under the presidency of one to look after the common good; for many, as such, seek many things, whereas one attends only to one. Wherefore the Philosopher says, in the beginning of the Politics, that wherever many things are directed to one, we shall always find one at the head directing them.
Secondly, if one man surpassed another in knowledge and virtue, this would not have been fitting unless these gifts conduced to the benefit of others, according to 1 Peter 4:10, “As every man hath received grace, ministering the same one to another.” Wherefore Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xix, 14): “Just men command not by the love of domineering, but by the service of counsel”: and (De Civ. Dei xix, 15): “The natural order of things requires this; and thus did God make man.”
For the question, “Whether men were equal in the state of innocence?” he writes:
Equality is the cause of equality in mutual love. Yet between those who are unequal there can be a greater love than between equals; although there be not an equal response: for a father naturally loves his son more than a brother loves his brother; although the son does not love his father as much as he is loved by him.
The cause of inequality could be on the part of God; not indeed that He would punish some and reward others, but that He would exalt some above others; so that the beauty of order would the more shine forth among men. Inequality might also arise on the part of nature as above described, without any defect of nature.
A properly ordered hierarchical social order has greater beauty than a collection of equals. This is consistent with Aquinas’s view that “divine goodness” is communicated “more perfectly” by “diverse things” (Summa Contra Gentiles , III, 97)
God, through His providence, orders all things to divine goodness as to an end; not however in such a manner that His goodness increases through those things which come to be, but so that a likeness of His goodness is imprinted in things insofar as it is possible, for indeed it is necessary that every created substance fall short of divine goodness, so that in order for divine goodness to be communicated to things more perfectly, it was necessary for there to be diversity in things, so that what is not able to be perfectly represented by some one [thing] is represented in a more perfect manner through diverse things in diverse ways.
John Calvin (1509 – 1564):
When he says that there is no difference between the man and the woman, he is treating of Christ’s spiritual kingdom, in which individual distinctions are not regarded, or made any account of; for it has nothing to do with the body, and has nothing to do with the outward relationships of mankind, but has to do solely with the mind — on which account he declares that there is no difference, even between bond and free. In the meantime, however, he does not disturb civil order or honorary distinctions, which cannot be dispensed with in ordinary life. Here, on the other hand, he reasons respecting outward propriety and decorum — which is a part of ecclesiastical polity. (Commentary on 1 Cor. 11:3)
The last things to be observed is, that the Lord enjoins every one of us, in all the actions of life, to have respect to our own calling. He knows the boiling restlessness of the human mind, the fickleness with which it is borne hither and thither, its eagerness to hold opposites at one time in its grasp, its ambition. Therefore, lest all things should be thrown into confusion by our folly and rashness, he has assigned distinct duties to each in the different modes of life. And that no one may presume to overstep his proper limits, he has distinguished the different modes of life by the name of callings. Every man’s mode of life, therefore, is a kind of station assigned him by the Lord, that he may not be always driven about at random. (Institutes III.x.6)
No one will ever devote himself to doing what belongs to his place [in society or the social organism], until we have learned that we were not created for ourselves, and also that we cannot be sustained, unless others extend us a helping hand. And, once we have learned this, we must still come back to what we observed before: this natural order did not come about by chance; rather God reveals His will by it, and means to test our obedience to see if we will submit to Him. Without this reverence, we will only cooperate begrudgingly, and will always be enraged when it comes to serving our neighbors. When, however, we perceive that it is God who yokes us together, teaching us that it is not without reason that he has been pleased to join us together in this way, then we should be disposed to receive the yoke He sets upon our neck, and willingly serve them whom He obligate us to serve. (Sermon on 1 Corinthians 11:14).
“Regarding our eternal salvation it is true that one must not distinguish between man and woman, or between king and a shepherd, or between a German and a Frenchman. Regard policy however, we have what St. Paul declares here; for our Lord Jesus Christ did not come to mix up nature, or to abolish what belongs to the preservation of decency and peace among us….Regarding the kingdom of God (which is spiritual) there is no distinction or difference between man and woman, servant and master, poor and rich, great and small. Nevertheless, there does have to be some order among us, and Jesus Christ did not mean to eliminate it, as some flighty and scatterbrained dreamers [believe].” Calvin (Sermon on 1 Corinthians 11:2-3, see above link)
Every one who goes beyond the limits of his calling provokes the wrath of God against himself by his rashness. Let every one therefore be satisfied with his lot, and learn not to aim at anything higher, but, on the contrary, to remain in his own rank in which God has placed him. If God stretch out his hand, and lift us up higher, we ought to go forward; but no one ought to take it on himself, or to strive for it from his own choice. And even those who are raised to a higher rank of honor ought to conduct themselves humbly and submissively, not with any pretended modesty, but with minds so thoroughly depressed that nothing can lift them up.” (In comments on Isaiah 14.13)
It is the Lord’s peculiar work to divide people into their respective ranks, distinguishing one from another, as seemeth good to him, all men being on a level by nature. (On Psalm 87)
Now we know for what end God would have rank and dignity to exist among men, and that is, that there might be something like a bridle to restrain the waywardness of the multitude. (Lecture 26 on Hosea)
Since Isaiah reckons this confusion among the curses of God, and declares that, when the distinction of ranks is laid aside, it is a terrible display of the vengeance of God, we ought to conclude, on the other hand, how much God is pleased with regular government and the good order of society, and also how great a privilege it is to have it preserved among us; for when it is taken away, the life of man differs little from the sustenance of cattle and of beasts of prey. (On Isaiah 24:2)
Meanwhile, the political distinction of ranks is not to be repudiated, for natural reason itself dictates this in order to take away confusion. (On Numbers 3:5)
Celebrity of name is not in itself condemned; since it is necessary that they whom the Lord has adorned with peculiar gifts should be preeminent among others; and it is advantageous that there should be distinction of ranks in the world. (On Genesis 6:4)
Hence as the world will have an end, so also will government, and magistracy, and laws, and distinctions of ranks, and different orders of dignities, and everything of that nature. There will be no more any distinction between servant and master, between king and peasant, between magistrate and private citizen. (On 1 Cor. 15:24)
“Let us suppose all to be on one equal level, what would such anarchy bring forth? No one would wish to yield to others; every one would try the extent of his powers, and thus all would end in prey and plunder, and in the mere license of fraud and murder, and all the passions of mankind would have full and unbridled sway. Hence I have said, tyranny is better than anarchy, and more easily borne, because where there is no supreme governor there is none to preside and keep the rest in check.” (on Daniel 4:13-16)
God does not delight in changes, or elevate in mockery to a lofty station, those whom he has determined immediately to throw down. It is rather the depravity of men that overturns the state of things, because nobody acknowledges that the disposal of every one is placed in His will and power. (On Luke 1:52)
In a well-ordered society the distinction between master and servant must be observed. In like manner, no public government can be lasting without the transactions of commerce; and therefore, when the distinction between rich and poor has been taken away, every scheme for gaining a livelihood among men is destroyed. (On Isaiah 24:2)
It is God who appoints and regulates all the arrangements of society. (On Ephesian 6:5-9)
Servants must also be cognizant of their rank and station; and everyone must apply himself in the thing which he has been called. It certainly accords well with Christianity that the rich man should enjoy his wealth (provided, of course, that he not devour everything without attending to the needs of his neighbors), and that the poor man should endure his station patiently, and beseech God, not desiring more than is proper. (Sermon on 1 Cor. 11:11-16)
Richard Hooker (1554 – 1600):
Without Order there is no living in public Society, because the want thereof is the mother of confusion, whereupon division of necessity followeth; and out of division destruction…If things and persons be ordered, this doth imply that they are distinguished by degrees: for Order is a gradual disposition. The whole world consisting of parts so many, so different, is by this only thing upheld; he which framed them, hath set them in order. The very Deity itself both keepeth and requireth for ever this to be kept as a Law, that wheresoever there is a coagmentation of many, the lowest be knit unto the highest by that which being interjacent may cause each to cleave to the other, so all continue one. This order of things and persons in public Societies is the work of Policy, and the proper instrument hereof in every degree is Power. (Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book VIII, Section 2)
William Perkins (1558 – 1602):
The common good of men stands in this, not only that they live, but that they live well, in righteousness and holiness and true happiness. And for the attainment hereunto, God hath ordained and disposed all callings, and his providence designed persons to bear them. (see here)
The whole [political] body is not the hand, nor the foot, nor the eye, but the hand one part, the foot another, and the eye another; and howsoever in the body one part is linked to another, yet there is a distinction betwixt the members….In every society one person should be above or under another; not making all equal, as though the body should be all head and nothing else; but even in degree and order, he [God] hath set a distinction, that one should be above another.
John Winthrop (1587 – 1649), in his famous sermon, A Model of Christian Charity, says,
GOD ALMIGHTY in his most holy and wise providence, hath so disposed of the condition of’ mankind, as in all times some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity; others mean and in submission.
1st Reason. First to hold conformity with the rest of his world, being delighted to show forth the glory of his wisdom in the variety and difference of the creatures, and the glory of his power in ordering all these differences for the preservation and good of the whole; and the glory of his greatness….
3rd Reason. Thirdly, that every man might have need of others, and from hence they might be all knit more nearly together in the Bonds of brotherly affection.
Scholar of puritanism, Perry Miller, writes (The American Puritans: Their Prose and Poetry, pg. 116),
The fundamental Puritan conception of social cohesion [is] articulated in a hierarchy of classes.
RL Dabney (1820 – 1898):
The right of suffrage and eligibility to office is not an inalienable natural franchise, but a function of responsibility entrusted to suitable classes of citizens as a trust.” Civic Ethics
Quotes from non-theologians:
Edmund Burke (1729 – 1797):
The happiness…found by virtue in all [social] conditions… [is] the true moral equality of mankind, and not in that monstrous fiction, which, by inspiring false ideas and vain expectations into men destined to travel in the obscure walk of laborious life, serves only to aggravate and embitter that real inequality, which it never can remove; and which the order of civil life establishes as much for the benefit of those whom it must leave in an humbled state, as those whom it is able to exalt to a condition more splendid, but not more happy. (Reflections on Revolution in France)
Alexis de Tocqueville (1805 – 1859):
True dignity in manners consists in always taking one’s proper station, neither too high nor too low, and this is as much within the reach of a peasant as of a prince. In democracies all stations appear doubtful; hence it is that the manners of democracies, though often full of arrogance, are commonly wanting in dignity, and, moreover, they are never either well trained or accomplished. (see here)
G. W. F. Hegel (1770 – 1831):
Men are made unequal by nature, where inequality is in its element, and in civil society the right of particularity is so far from annulling this natural inequality that it produces it out of mind and raises it to an inequality of skill and resources, and even to one of moral and intellectual attainment. To oppose to this right a demand for equality is a folly of the Understanding which takes as real and rational its abstract equality. (Philosophy of Right, 200)
At first (i.e. especially in youth) a man chafes at the idea of resolving on a particular social position, and looks upon this as a restriction on his universal character and as a necessity imposed on him purely ab extra. This is because his thinking is still of that abstract kind which refuses to move beyond the universal and so never reaches the actual. (Hegel, Phil of Right, 207.)
John Ruskin (1819 – 1900):
If there be any one point insisted on throughout my works more frequently than another, that one point is the impossibility of Equality. My continual aim has been to show the eternal superiority of some men to others, sometimes even of one man to all others; and to show also the advisability of appointing such persons or person to guide, to lead, or on occasion even to compel and subdue, their inferiors, according to their own better knowledge and wiser will. (Unto This Last)
Inequalities of wealth, justly established, benefit the nation in the course of their establishment; and, nobly used, aid it yet more by their existence. (Unto This Last)
Fisher Ames (1758 – 1808) (American Founding Father):
A democratic society will soon find its morals the encumbrance of its race, the surly companion of its licentious joys…. In a word, there will not be morals without justice; and though justice might possibly support a democracy, yet a democracy cannot possibly support justice.
John Adams (1735 – 1826):
Nature, which has established in the universe a chain of being and universal order, descending from archangels to microscopic animalcules, has ordained that no two objects shall be perfectly alike, and no two creatures perfectly equal. Although, among men, all are subject by nature to equal laws of morality, and in society have a right to equal laws for their government, yet no two men are perfectly equal in person, property, understanding, activity, and virtue, or ever can be made so by any power less than that which created them.
Is this enough to halt the egalitarian rampage of today’s social justice Christian, the grace-infused activist set on the destruction of the natural order? Probably not. Delusions of equality run deep. This is a beginning, however.