Social Hierarchy and Protestant Resourcement

Simon Kennedy at the The Calvinist International has written a piece explaining the primary aim of the website. He writes,

One of the aims of the The Calvinist International is the ‘renewal of Christian wisdom’ to re-invigorate the Church. The method for this renewal is a principled retrieval of classical Protestant Christianity. The retrieval is not a bigoted one, which pushes aside ideas and calvin-and-hobbessources not directly stemming from magisterial Reformation. Far from it. The pages of this website should be ample evidence of that. It is also quite the opposite of much that passes for evangelicalism these days. It is the conviction of those who contribute to this website that contemporary evangelicalism tends to be a reflection of its lack of historical awareness. Hence the need to recapture of classical Protestant ideas.

I will say first that I have greatly benefited from TCI’s project and its contributors. The content has done much to shape my thinking, especially on two-kingdom theology. A few of the contributors have constructively challenged me in a few areas of my thinking and they have all been very willing to assist me in other ways. I wholly endorse the project.

But I have some criticism, and it does not concern the content. It concerns what is lacking in the content. On the TCI about page, it read, “Rather than rushing toward sweeping reinventions or fashionable new paradigms, we started by devoting ourselves deeply to the old evangelical tradition, most of which is still largely forgotten.” And they pride themselves that “[p]erhaps our most significant achievement here has been the clarification of terms darkened by careless usage.” They have good reason to be proud of this achievement.

But what troubles me is that although they have a great deal of content covering old Protestant metaphysics (which is much closer to Thomas than Ockham),  two-kingdom theology and some of its implications, and other matters in social and political philosophy, they have not addressed in detail (and barely have mentioned) a subject with clear credentials for being catholic—having agreement among medieval Roman Catholics (Thomas), early Protestants (Calvin), Anglicans (R. Hooker), and Puritans (Perkins, Winthrop)[1]—namely, natural human social hierarchy. I have already shown on this blog the agreement between Thomas, Calvin, Hooker, and Winthrop on this topic. I could add to this list William Perkins, other Puritans and the Reformed confessions. The more I look into this, the more agreement I see. Furthermore, such natural hierarchy is a consequence of the type of realist or Thomist metaphysics that TCI hopes to retrieve. It is no surprise that Thomas Hobbes, while attacking and dismissing classical and medieval metaphysics (and thereby the metaphysics of the old Protestants) in the first few chapters of his Leviathan and substituting it with a radical nominalist approach, repeatedly insists on man’s almost perfect natural equality. The rejection of natural human hierarchy comes with a rejection of traditional metaphysics.

Yet on TCI there is little to no mention of the subject (as far as I can tell from searching the site), except one post by Matthew Tuininga who was replying to my objection to his rejection of natural hierarchy and inequality. It is not clear to me that the writers at TCI agree with Matthew, though I am thankful that they offered Matthew a place to reply.

Why are they silent on this catholic doctrine? Why all the conversations on political theology and political philosophy and why all the trouble of renewal and retrieval with no mention of this? I can’t answer it, though it might be because some of the contributors believe in equality along distributist or neo-agrarian lines. Whatever the answer is, TCI has done nothing to correct contemporary evangelicalism’s lack of historical awareness on the topic.

Perhaps they haven’t considered how their retrieval of metaphysics affects their political theology. I suggest that they follow the example of Richard Hooker:

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.

[1] I realize that classifying Winthrop and Hooker is not easy.

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