06 December 2016

R Scott Clark's Obfuscations and Westminster West's GOP-friendly Two Kingdom Theology


There are two reasons I wish to respond to this piece by R Scott Clark. One is I think it provides an example of Westminster West's Two Kingdom Theology in action and demonstrates that its views (especially in application) are a far cry from 'radical' or 'Anabaptist'. This is to correct the false assertions of both Lutheran and Theonomist theologians.

Second, I think his piece is misleading on several points and deserves a response.

Jane Mayer wrote the piece for the New Yorker because she just recently published "Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right ", and so one might argue she knows a thing or two about the topic. She's not a journalist out to do a 'hit' piece but is instead writing a piece to compliment her recent work. I finished the book this summer and certainly recommend it.

The DeVos family plays a secondary role in the story. Primarily it's about the Koch Brothers and the way their network has all but taken over the Republican Party. The DeVos family has played a fairly important role in this process. She also covers the Prince family and its two famous scions, Betsy and Erik. Erik went on to form Blackwater while Betsy married Richard DeVos and is thus heir to the Amway Empire and its billions. Amway for those unfamiliar with it, Amway is a sleazy semi-religious business cult, the diseased offspring of Dutch Calvinism's Dominionist theology.

Betsy's role regarding education and the promotion of charter schools comes out in Mayer's book. Few realise that many charter schools are for-profit and thus the movement she backs is largely about privatising 'public' education. Some will happily admit this point and advocate for it. The point here is not to support or criticise the notion but to argue for transparency. Few realise what the issues are and of the many Christians I've conversed with on this point, the same is also true. The controversy over DeVos is that Trump is appointing someone as a cabinet secretary that is fundamentally against the very nature of the post and the jurisdiction it purports to administrate. It's nothing new. Republican administrations have been guilty of this for many years. James Watt as Secretary of the Interior under Reagan comes to mind.

When it comes to certain departments of the Executive Branch, the pathway to dissolution is to succumb and destroy it from within. The appointment of Betsy DeVos represents such a move. There is certainly a story here that's in the public interest. Clark either doesn't grasp this fact or he's deliberately trying to distract from the salient issue.

While on the one hand the Koch network represents a force external to the Reagan era GOP, on the other hand it is a Wall Street and Corporate dominated network and thus (in reality) represents a faction within the US Establishment. Some might even argue it's a case of New Money vs. the Old Money that dominated a couple of generations ago. The rise of the New Right (if I can call it that) in the 1990s has culminated in the utter eradication of the old Rockefeller wing of the party. One might also explore the Libertarian insurgency within the Republican Party as a way of providing a narrative to the transformation.

The same conflict is at work within the Christian Right and has led to significant divisions.

Clark obsesses over a minor point regarding DeVos' church affiliation. At present she is a member of the Mars Hill Bible Church, a congregation started by the now somewhat infamous Rob Bell. But what is not as well known is that he was forced out of the Mars Hill congregation in 2011 for his heretical book on the doctrine of Hell and eternal punishment. While the congregation is hardly Confessional or conservative as someone like Clark might like to see, in driving Bell out, it demonstrated that it has not yet completely abandoned traditional Evangelical values. That said, it must be admitted that like most Evangelical Churches it appears to have seriously deviated from historical Christian norms.

While DeVos may at present be attending a somewhat 'squishy' Evangelical congregation, her background is indeed Dutch Reformed. Clark turns somewhat priggish at this point and quibbles over denominational nomenclature. Sorry, the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) is rightly labelled as Dutch Reformed even if there isn't officially a denomination called the Dutch Reformed Church.

I will say this, Mayer, Jeremy Scahill and others need to pick up a phone and get some help working through the nomenclature if they want to maintain their integrity, especially with Christian readers they might hope to reach and influence. Church denominations and affiliations are often complicated and yet they lose credibility when they make these minor mistakes. Scahill while writing about Erik Prince (Betsy's brother) in his book on Blackwater, kept referring to the 'Dutch Reform Church', and thus he loses credibility with readers who know that there's no 'official' denomination called the Dutch Reform Church and it's Reformed not Reform. It's a very minor point and has little to do with the overall point of the book and the nature of Erik Prince's influences but it demonstrates that secular authors are not only unfamiliar with the nuances, they often fail to understand the broader concepts. Mayer tried to revise her statement but by picking 'Reformed Church in America' she stepped into another morass because that is the name of yet another Dutch Reformed denomination, the RCA.

Dutch Reformed is a proper label for an umbrella concept or a broad tradition within Calvinism. I would argue Dominionism is specifically the offspring of Dutch Reformed theology and its impulses and thus it has provided something of a framework for the ecumenicism that now dominates the Evangelical world. Dominionism has crossed denominational and traditional lines and has brought together Confessionalists, Evangelicals, Pentecostals and even some Roman Catholics.

The fact that the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) is today a liberal denomination is meaningless and Clark knows this. His own denomination the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) is a breakaway from the CRC and this schism only occurred in 1996. So up until 1995, all CRC conservatives were still in the denomination. And just because a new group (the URCNA) formed in 1996 doesn't mean that all conservative pastors and congregations jumped ship at the same time. The CRC has been in a state of flux and transition and this process began decades ago.

I would certainly identify the CRC as theologically liberal and yet I have found in talking to CRC folks that not everyone agrees that the whole denomination is guilty of that label. Clark knows this, he's being somewhat disingenuous in trying to trash Mayer's technical mistakes regarding Dutch Reformed denominationalism vs. the DeVos family's background and influences... which he doesn't want to talk about.

As far as the separation of Church and State, once again Clark is falling into the realm of the pedantic and the priggish.  While there are Dutch Reformed and even Kuyperians who officially support the separation of Church and State (and for a host of varied reasons), they de facto support some form of Christian State and/or State sponsorship of the Church. Their nuances and qualifications are going to be largely lost on someone outside their own circles and as one familiar with the nuances I don't buy their position. Clark as well as DeVos supports the idea of a Christian America. They don't want to formalise it or codify it in the same way a Rushdoony supporter would but the basic impulse is the same.

This is a point I often try to make when contrasting Westminster West's Two Kingdom theology vis-à-vis Theonomy. The difference is one of form and style but the antagonism between the camps is largely false. Both stand for Christendom and thus (in that sense) reject aspects of the Classical Liberal tradition which heavily influenced the Founding Fathers of the United States as represented in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and its initial amendments we call the Bill of Rights. The impulses and ideological foundations are not the same.

I too reject the Classical Liberalism of the Founders but that doesn't mean that I turn to some form or manifestation of Christendom (Kuyperian or otherwise) as the position for which the Church should advocate.

The Sphere Sovereignty of Kuyper was developed in the late 19th and early 20th century in light of Liberalism and Social Pluralism. His vision of supporting pillars and spheres into which society operates was able to accommodate the fragmented Christendom of his day and his nation. And yet clearly his model attempts to provide a way to implement Dominionist and Socio-Christian concepts within the framework of the modern state and society. Right or wrong this is not at all the view laid out by the US Constitution and in fact represents a break with its principles.

If the DeVos family and others wish to change the Constitution, then they should say so and put their cards on the table as it were. But of course the Christian Right has painted itself into a corner on this point. In general terms many if not most of them actually disagree with the Constitution on several essential points and not a few would like to change it. And yet as most of them have adopted the fictional and fallacious view known as Originalism they have effectively bound their own hands. As a consequence they are forced to re-interpret and revise not only what the Founders meant but nearly two centuries of case law and precedent. Many outside their circles would consider this profoundly anti-patriotic and revolutionary as opposed to representing some kind of conservatism.

For more on Originalism:

At this point in the article, Clark plays the prig once again, focusing on Mayer's mistake regarding Tim LaHaye's organisation the Council for National Policy (CNP). Mayer mistakenly wrote 'on' instead of 'for'.

He then amazingly turns to conspiracy baiting because Mayer identifies the group as 'secret' along the lines of Bilderberg etc.

The truth is that the CNP is rather secretive and has closely guarded its agenda for many years. The fact that it has a website in no way changes this.

The CFR, Trilateral Commission and Bilderberg group are all considered to be 'secretive' organisations, especially the latter. And yet all of them have websites. Does this mean that Bilderberg is suddenly the paragon of transparency? Does the existence of a website suddenly erase all claims of secrecy? Does the CIA have a website? Of course it does. And I'm sure the average journalist can just walk right in and get all the information they're after right? It's not secretive in the least.

Right Mr. Clark?

And no, there's nothing funny about a Right-wing organisation riddled with government and industry insiders meeting with agents promoting clandestine political strategies, overseas guerilla wars and involved in all kinds of covert activity and plans for society. No conspiracy here. In fact it is ironic that many within the organisation, such as the late Phyllis Schlafly and the CNP's founder Tim LaHaye were firm believers in international conspiracies related to Bilderberg and similar organisations. That said, their solution was to form their own secretive cabal that plotted against them. It's an old story going back to the narratives of the John Birch Society.

I would imagine Clark knows all of this as well but has chosen (for tactical reasons) to ignore them and play the ad hominem card attacking Mayer's journalistic character rather than provide anything helpful for his readers, his cyber-flock as it were.

It is clear that Clark's purpose is to obfuscate. He doesn't want to discuss the DeVos family and the role they have played in the Christian Right. Instead he wants to quibble about Mayer's minor mistakes and discredit her thus. Mayer's work while far from perfect or even praiseworthy nevertheless is worthwhile, instructive and relevant. Clark has no interest in the issues. Instead he has chosen to play the role of apologist for the agenda of the Christian Right and the Trump administration.

Clark who is associated the Escondido Theology or the Two Kingdoms theology of Westminster West (California) has consistently demonstrated that his worldview is more or less akin to the typical pro-GOP/Tea Party/FOX News mindset that dominates the Theonomists he will sometimes criticise. The Two Kingdoms theology he represents is a One Kingdom Sacralism. It represents an improvement on the Christendom model of the Magisterial Reformation and perhaps the more extreme forms of Theonomy and Neo-Kuyperianism. But this hardly makes him into some kind of radical adherent of Two Kingdom theology.

This commentary on the Mayer article is pretty common fare for his blog as well as the podcasts he hosts. Biblical Two Kingdom theology does not fall within the political spectrum and it's certainly not Right-wing. Clark's promotion of militarism, nationalism, Right-wing politics and the American system clearly demonstrate that both he and the school of thought he is associated with fall squarely within the confines of the Christian Right. They may represent a (sometimes) more intelligent version of it that at least acknowledges (somewhat) the teaching of the New Testament. But for the most part he represents the same general spectrum and impulses of the Christian Right and its Dominionist project.

For further reading:


No comments:

Post a Comment