When a few weeks ago the Virginia AG Ken Cuccinelli spoke to a group of 250 pastors assuring them that the churches are not only permitted but also expected to speak on political issues, and thus encouraged the pastors to give “guidance on issues that fall in the political world,” he didn’t do anything the Reformed theological tradition disapproves of. To the contrary, by doing that, Cuccinelli followed in the footsteps of those government magistrates in the Bible of whom Calvin says that are praised for “taking care that religion flourished under them in purity and safety.” Indeed, if the church is instructed to speak to governors and kings (Matt.10:18), then every governor or king that encourages the church to speak to him and advise him in his policies is obedient to his Biblical mandate in his calling before God. Whatever Cuccinelli’s personal reasons for his encouragement to pastors could be, his call must be praised highly by the church as an example for Biblically obedient magistrates, and the pastors must be strongly admonished to take Cuccinelli’s advice.
But no, some supposedly “Reformed” authors wouldn’t agree with Calvin, and wouldn’t agree with Jesus’ commandment for us to speak before governors and kings. In an article with the disparaging title, “When Churches Play at Politics,” Peter Wehner disagrees that the pastors should accept Cuccinelli’s encouragement – and Christ’s commandment, for that matter – to instruct governors. While we will return to his specific arguments later, it is helpful to note at the beginning that he summarizes his position with the words of Tim Keller, a prominent PCA pastor: “The church as the church ought to be less concerned about speaking to politics and more concerned about service.”
Now, Tim Keller’s views of social theory, economics, and politics deserve a more thorough treatment. But this statement of him is very important since it very well exhibits the basic position of the Two-Kingdom Theology: The radical separation between the sacred and the secular, between the “spiritual” concerns of the church and the “political” ministry of the state. This dualistic fragmentation of life has been plaguing the church and its theology for the last two centuries, leading to the disintegration of the Christian civilization created by our forefathers; and the taking over of the West by the secularists who create no such division in their own ideologies and religions.
What will the results be if we accept Keller’s statement as authoritative? Can we really separate between politics and service as he recommends? And who determines what “politics” is and what “service” is? Tim Keller and others like him are eager to limit the pastors’ political involvement but they are not as willing to limit the politicians’ “service” involvement. Thus the pastors are limited but the politicians are not, and therefore it is the politicians that are free to determine what is “politics” and what is “service.” Like I pointed out before, in such a situation we should expect to see the politicians gradually expanding the definition of politics to include what traditionally has been service. Our modern history has many examples of this. Education used to be a service provided by the church; today it is politics from beginning to end – laws, federal and state agencies, regulations, teachers’ unions, etc. Care for the elderly was traditionally Christian service, today it is politics – Social Security, Medicare, regulations and tax rules for retirement accounts, inheritance issues, etc. Care for the poor has always been the responsibility of the families and of the church – as the Bible clearly states in both the Old and the New Testaments – and today welfare is the largest financial commitment of the modern civil governments, as well the major topic in all political campaigns, legislature sessions, and political debates. Regulation of relationships between employers and employees, debtors and creditors, was the topic of many sermons in the colonial era and the early U.S. History; today these economic issues are entirely within the jurisdiction of the state.
So where do we stop? And how can the pastors oppose this absorption of everything by the state? Keller doesn’t say; neither does Wehner. They do not seem to notice the trend; or if they do notice it, they do not seem concerned about it. One could make a conclusion they welcome the march to statism. Eager to limit the pastors to their “spiritual” calling, they do not seem as eager to limit the politicians to their “secular” calling. Socialism wins by default in the outworking of such a theology in practice.
Wehner himself adds another argument against the pastors’ political involvement: Their lack of competence or insight. This is a serious issue, we must admit. But then Wehner’s conclusion is again in favor of the statist solution: If the pastors are incompetent, then the state’s “experts” should take over. Again, he claims, the pastors must remain limited and restrained, and the state reign supreme over all.
But why are pastors incompetent in the first place? Aren’t most pastors the product of the multitude of seminaries that teach the Two-Kingdom doctrine? Aren’t the seminaries supposed to teach the pastors to apply the Word of God to every area of life? What stops the seminaries from doing that? Isn’t it the same Two-Kingdom Theology that says at the very outset that pastors shouldn’t be concerned with politics but with “service”?
Wehner puts the buggy before the horse. He uses the incompetence of the pastors to justify his position that the pastors shouldn’t get involved in politics. The truth is, the incompetence of those pastors is the very product of Wehner’s theology taught in the seminaries. No seminary offers courses on political science, Biblical economics, Biblical philosophy of history, Biblical view of welfare, employer-employee relations, war, etc. No seminary teaches a comprehensive worldview to make the pastors competent to talk about any issue in our modern society from a Biblical perspective. The seminaries stand on the same foundation Wehner stands on: Churches should not “play at politics,” i.e. pastors should be silent on political issues. When seminaries believe that, we shouldn’t expect them to teach their students anything that smacks of politics in our modern world, and therefore the seminary graduates will remain incompetent to give the Biblical principles and inside to those areas of life that are “politics.” Pastors indeed are incompetent. And Wehner and others like him bear the responsibility for it.
Ironically, Wehner’s complaints against the incompetence of pastors don’t speak well of his friend Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Mohler’s own words, “the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.” Albert Mohler has trained thousands of pastors, directly and through his influence over other seminaries. And those thousands of pastors are exactly the pastors that Wehner talks about: incompetent and without insight when it comes to comprehensive view of life. Wehner is completely right: very little insight and wisdom comes from those pastors trained by Mohler – and in fact, from the pastors of any other denomination in general. What stops Mohler, with his influence and knowledge, from training those pastors to be competent?
The answer is: His theology. Mohler is one of the most prominent defenders of the Two-Kingdom Theology. The same theology that calls for the radical separation between sacred and worldly, spiritual and political, nature and grace, the Law of God and the “natural” law. Mohler’s theology forces him to produce incompetent pastors, devoid of any knowledge about the application of the Bible to all of life, because all of life is not under the directions of the Bible in the first place. Mohler doesn’t believe Christians can offer anything more than just vague “influence” in the society; and he insist they should restrain from any control or power over government or cultural decisions and policies.
This is especially visible in an interview that Mohler himself took of Peter Wehner about Wehner’s book, City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era. A significant part of the interview is devoted to the Two-Kingoms view that there is no such thing as a Christian culture. Mohler asks the question, “You are not really suggesting that there can be a creation of Christian culture.” And Wehner replies:
I don’t think we can create a Christian culture. I think part of that frankly is grounded in scripture itself and Christ said that the world hated me and the world will hate you.
The two then continue to bash the view that we must create a Christian culture; they offer only what they call a Christian “influence on the culture.” They know they can not separate from the culture but they want to be faithful to their preferred theology of the two kingdoms. So, just like Keller, they place a very specific limit on Christians (“Do not create a Christian culture”) but they do not place such limit on the non-Christians. Non-Christians in government and in other vocations are free to do as they please, create pagan culture with everything it entails – government, economics, science, family, entertainment, literature, law, etc. – on the basis of their own ideologies and religions. But Christians are barred from doing such a thing. At the most, Christians are allowed to only “influence” that culture already created by pagans.
But wait, what are they going to “influence” it toward? “Influence” means “sway, make one change direction.” If Mohler and Wehner have no Christian culture to offer as an alternative, to what direction do they want to influence the prevailing pagan culture? Do they expect Christians to sway the pagan culture to a better pagan culture? On what foundation should this “influence” be based if Christians don’t have a culture to start with? Should they beat something with nothing? If Christians have no culture to offer, then they have no cultural solutions to offer, then by default they will be incompetent and with no insight to participate in the culture. If “the world will hate you” means what Mohler and Wehner want it to mean – no Christian culture – then why should it mean Christian cultural “influence” at all? Will a Christ-hating world be more willing to accept Christian cultural “influence” than Christian culture? If that hatred means that a Christian must shy from building a Christian culture, why not mean that a Christian must shy from anything cultural at all, including cultural influence?
Thus by default, a pastor trained by Mohler and by the seminaries influenced by Mohler will have to be uneducated and untrained and incompetent about the world. He has no other choice but retreat. He will have to focus on “service,” but only “service” as defined by the government bureaucrats, i.e. everything that is still not taken by the state. His Two-Kingdom Theology will discourage any cultural endeavor he might have – and of course, the very seminaries that trained him won’t offer him any training in cultural endeavors. By default, the government and the cultural leadership must be left in the hands of non-Christians. Not only Mohler and his theology discourage Christians from cultural and political leadership, they also actively promote non-Christian – i.e. ungodly – power over the society and over Christians themselves, and over their churches. Peter Wehner’s complaint against Cuccinelli, and Albert Mohler’s theology of the Two Kingdoms are in effect the religion of statism dressed in religious and theological garb. The two kingdoms of that theology are the ever expanding kingdom of unlimited ungodly statist power, and the ever shrinking kingdom of Christian cowardly retreat, incompetence, and lack of insight and wisdom. Wehner’s observations about the pastors’ incompetence are correct; he only misses the fact that that incompetence is the fruit of his own theology, and of the theology of his theological friends.
So, Cuccinelli is right, pastors must speak up on political issues. But we also need to understand that as long as the seminaries are captured by professors who refuse to preach the comprehensive Gospel of the Kingdom of God, the church will remain incompetent and unable to speak. As long as the seminaries’ theology encourages the cowardly retreat from our obligation to build a Christian culture in obedience to the Great Commission, our land will be under the oppression of ungodly powers. Competence comes only from the Word of God, and from a theology that submits everything under Christ and His Kingdom. Christians must stop listening to Wehner and his theological accomplices and accept their comprehensive responsibilities in the Kingdom of Christ.
Author: Bojidar Marinov
A Reformed missionary to his native Bulgaria for over 10 years, Bojidar preaches and teaches doctrines of the Reformation and a comprehensive Biblical worldview. Having founded Bulgarian Reformation Ministries in 2001, he and his team have translated over 30,000 pages of Christian literature about the application of the Law of God in every area of man’s life and society, and published those translations online for free. He has been active in the formation of the Libertarian movement in Bulgaria, a co-founder of the Bulgarian Society for Individual Liberty and its first chairman. If you would like Bojidar to speak to your church, homeschool group or other organization, contact him through his website: http://www.bulgarianreformation.org/