Afghanistan, A Twofold Kingdom, Serpents, And Doves

The disastrous American withdrawal from Afghanistan has created a multifaceted crisis. A savage regime has retaken control of Afghanistan and bodies of innocent civilians and American allies are already strewn across the streets. This is the Taliban is showing a modicum of restraint as they wait for the world’s television cameras to lose interest and they can begin executing their reprisals in earnest. Doubtless they are quaking in their new boots (courtesy of the Afghan National Army and the US taxpayer) at the finger wagging coming from the US State Department.  Most Americans seem to want America out of Afghanistan but few Americans want what has transpired over the last few days across Afghanistan. Only a ghoul could delight in what has happened at Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul. I am experienced enough to have voted in 1980 and I remember well the Carter Administration’s failed attempt to rescue the hostages from the American embassy in Tehran. The Carter Administration is being made to look like seasoned professionals in comparison to the Biden Administration. My point, however, is not to point fingers or to score points but to use this episode as an opportunity to think about the nature of life in what Calvin called a “twofold kingdom.”

Principles And Policy Over Personalities

Christians live in a twofold kingdom, i.e., under God’s sovereign administration of all things. There are two spheres in the kingdom, the sacred and the secular (or the saving and the general). Our life in the sacred sphere, in the visible church, as citizens of the Kingdom of God, of is governed specifically by God’s special revelation. Our life in the common or secular sphere is governed by the general principles of the Word and by general, natural revelation, which Calvin and Reformers called the natural law.

Americans tend not to pay attention to politics. Indeed, until the modern age of mass media and before the expansion of the Federal under FDR Administrations, it was quite possible for most Americans safely to ignore the federal government and go about life as if politics were irrelevant. With industrialization and the rise of a much larger, more intrusive federal government, the development of larger and more intrusive state and local governments, and with the growth of the permanent bureaucratic state a legislative body (e.g., Congress, the state legislature, or a city council) passes a vague law empowering bureaucrats to write rules that have the force of law and to enforce the law, it has become increasingly difficult to avoid politics and government. In short, you can run but you cannot hide.

These changes in American life mean that, apart from those who live “off the grid,” most of us are compelled to deal with the government whether it be school boards imposing critical theory, the LGBTQ indoctrination of Kindergartners, or potential vaccine mandates from state and local governments. The question is not whether Christians must navigate our brave new world but how.

Recently a prominent Baptist theologian wrote that American Christians turn to Fox News to learn what their pastors will not give them,  a Christian worldview. Our Baptist friend probably thinks that a “worldview” will do more than it does and his supposition about why people watch the news networks they do may or may not be true but it is true that Christians need to learn to interpret the significance of reality in a Christian way. There is such a thing as a Christian worldview but they also need wisdom, which is a neglected category among evangelicals.

One thing our Baptist friend did not tell us is that we do not have news media any more. We do have media corporations. Their job is to inflame more than to inform. Their chief function is to generate revenue and to keep the stock price up. Our media corporations are driven by ratings and clicks and they do not care how they get there. This pattern began more than sixty years ago. The advent of television dramatically changed American politics. The internet is television on steroids and with a comment box. Television is an inherently emotive medium. It does not inform as much as move our feelings. That is even more true of internet-based media.

One way to get eyeballs, ears, and clicks is to focus on personalties rather than on policies. Thus, the media corporations turn political races into horse races and polls for decades have told us that Americans tend to decide how to vote not on the basis of policies and platforms (i.e., proposed plans and outcomes of government action) but on the basis of personalities. Americans vote for people they like and they do not much care about the platforms and policies represented by a candidate. Worse, far too many Americans tend to vote candidates on the basis of sex appeal or hairstyle. I remember when our current president had much less hair than he has now. Why is his hair better today than it was forty years ago? His advisors knew that Americans are more likely to vote for a candidate with good hair.

Wisdom, however, would have Christians focus on policies rather than personalities. To do so means asking certain questions, e.g.,

  • What is the nature of government and liberty?
  • How should government understand and apply the constitution?
  • What are the limits of government?
  • What does this candidate think is the function of government?
  • What experience does a candidate bring to the job?
  • What do we know about a candidate’s character?
  • What plan of action is a candidate proposing and on what basis?

Electing a candidate on the basis of principles and policy is more difficult than electing candidates on the basis of their eye color or hair style but life in the twofold kingdom seems to require it. Christians as a de facto religious minority in an increasingly hostile culture have a significant incentive to pay attention to principles and policies rather than to personalties since their liberty to practice their faith seven days a week is at stake.

Perspective And Patience Over Panic

Have you noticed that every story, however mundane, is now  “Breaking News!”? Have you noticed that we seem now to lurch from crisis to crisis? Our media corporations have a short-term financial interest in creating panics. Human beings are wired with a fight or flight response to danger. If the media corporations can manipulate our fight or flight response they can draw more eyes, ears, and clicks. In turn, politicians have learned that the best way to get what they want is not to make a reasoned argument from law and logic in a legislature but to stimulate fear, anger, and outrage. The media corporations would have us think that hurricanes in the late summer were hitherto unknown and that the world is either going to freeze (1976) or burn (2006) or something terrible is happening. I know this to be the case because the rule in every newsroom in which I worked was simple: if it bleeds it leads. This means that if a story came across the wire the had some action, some excitement, and preferably blood, that was to be the lead story of the next newscast. We left it to tax-funded public radio to lead with boring policy issues. We had to generate ratings. We were responsible to stockholders.

Our media corporations work to diminish our perspective and to heighten our panic. Fear sells. Every media operation has a sales team and those sales people promise to clients that their company can move clients to their business. This means that, in a sense, the news does not really exist. All corporate media is really just stimulation of our fight or flight response to generate revenue. That there is occasional bit of serious journalism is more or less accidental.

Panic creates movement. During the riots last year people reasonably took steps to protect themselves since, in some cities, the authorities essentially gave up protecting the public. That created a run on firearms and ammunition. When Covid broke out panic ensued and store shelves were stripped bear. Politicians see this behavior. They know that they too are a product that must be sold to the public. The allure of panic to get what they want (a job) is irresistible but resist it we must.

Christians, as much as we must navigate daily life, have access to a perspective to which our pagan neighbors lack: perspective. The Triune God is sovereign over all things. He spoke creation into existence and Christ is coming agin to judge the quick and dead. This life is important and it is to be lived to the glory of God and the welfare of our neighbor but this life is not all there is. Our culture tells us to be wise as doves and as harmless as serpents. Christians, however, should be wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matt 10:16). How are serpents wise? Around here, on the edge of the desert, the rattlesnakes keep a low profile. They generally do not bother us if we do not bother them. Their first instinct upon contact with people is to flee. They usually only strike when cornered. Doves, of course, could not be more harmless.

In the secular sphere of God’s twofold kingdom Christians must seek wisdom and harmlessness. The secular sphere is important but it is not ultimate. The sacred sphere is eternal and love of neighbor means that our highest aspiration is that our neighbors should turn to Christ and enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This is not an either/or but a both/and proposition. This is the benefit of thinking about our life in God’s twofold kingdom. We have responsibilities in both but there is a hierarchy. We are not just passing through but this life is not final. In light of that perspective we may be “patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and for what is future have good confidence in our faithful God and Father, that no creature shall separate us from his love since all creatures are so in his hand that without his will they cannot as much as move” (Heidelberg Catechism 28).

May God grant us the patience to discern principles, policies, and perspective and the wisdom to know the difference between hype and hope.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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9 comments

  1. Great post. My wife and I finally gave up watching the evening news during Spring, 2020, when the feature story every night was the number “new COVID cases,” the number of “COVID deaths,” etc. Were those “new deaths” any greater than the number of “regular” deaths every year? No. Was the number of new cases significant in any particular way (other than the run-of-the-mill flu cases every year)? Probably not. But every evening since, there are updated statistics to underscore the rapid spread of this deadly pandemic.

    Nevertheless, whenever we bring these issues up to fellow “evangelicals” we are stared at as if we are alien traitors, especially if it involves whether or not having been vaccinated. We remind them that the entire country, as well as most of the world, is under a massive clinical trial for the vaccination drugs and that some of the results thus far are not very encouraging… if you read the right sources, that is.

    If one wants to go along blindly following everything the “nanny state” tells you to do, good luck. But it seems like paying more attention to the secular world than the spiritual. How does that fit with a good two-kingdom paradigm?

    • You expressed my thoughts almost perfectly. I have often felt divided from Christian brothers and sisters who view things differently. It is hard to go to church even if you are resolved not to talk about the news but Covid seems to pop up. I would much rather talk about Christ, the sermon etc…. Ah for a more simple world

  2. To paraphrase, Malcolm Muggeridge’s experience in the news media he put a twist on the gospel of John; in the beginning was the LIE, and the LIE became the news, and it dwells among Us graceless and faults..

  3. Which Baptist theologian said Fox News has a Christian worldview? I didn’t see a link for the source.

  4. Dr. Clark,

    Couple of typos. It is not Kamid Harzai Airport but Hamid Karzai Airport. Somehwere you mentioned “agin”

    Thanks for the post. I always appreciate your analysis of the culture from a 2K perspective.

    • A couple of more typos:

      1. “…before the expansion of the Federal under FDR Administrations…”

      2. “When Covid broke out panic ensued and store shelves were stripped bear.”

      Regarding FOX News having a Christian worldview — people need to remember that Rupert Murdoch is a secular conservative from Australia. His newspapers in Britain prominently feature women in various stages of undress, which has been a normal thing in newspapers for that country for a very long time with “Page Six Girls,” “Page Three Girls,” and worse. It’s not just an Aussie or Brit problem, however — the man who Murdoch recruited to start FOX News in America, Roger Ailes, turned out to be a serial sexual predator. I understand the reality that TV reporters, particularly women, need to look and dress in certain ways because their looks are a major part of their job in ways that don’t apply to print and radio, but Ailes took it to a whole new level at FOX with an emphasis on short skirts, long legs, and see-through tables. In hindsight, Ailes’ hidden personal behavior puts what might appear to be normal decisions on selection of anchors and reporters, or at least defensible decisions, in a different light.

      Anyone who wants to claim that FOX News has a Christian worldview needs to rethink what a Christian worldview means. Yes, FOX is far less anti-Christian than most other major media, but that’s not the same as saying it’s Christian. It simply is not.

      Certainly secular conservatism has many points of commonality with a Christian worldview, and is a useful ally in the fight against people who actively hate God and any form of traditional family or community structure. However, greed for money, power, or women — all of which can fairly be said to characterize a significant amount of what happens at FOX — creates a serious risk of lowering the moral standards of those who get most of their information from FOX News. The problem is there are no other alternatives that come close to the viewership of FOX, and that means they have massive resources that no other conservative news organization can come close to matching. FOX is far from perfect, but most alternatives are either aggressively liberal and opposed to traditional values, or are much smaller operations that just can’t come close to doing what FOX does.

      Regarding the role of viewer ratings, internet clicks, and (old school) print circulation figures — Dr. Clark, I realize you are speaking from experience in radio newsrooms and I’m not going to dispute your experience.

      Of course I agree with you that “if it bleeds it leads” is going to apply. The lead story on the drive-time news for the local news radio station will be, and SHOULD be, the big wreck on the highway that’s tying up traffic. The big photo above-the-fold in a non-metro daily newspaper will be, and SHOULD be, the house that caught fire, or the overturned car that blocked traffic on which the radio station was also reporting. But the motives are not so much financial as “we’ve got this breaking news and we need to get it out and get it out first.” Yes, that will build print circulation or broadcast or online ratings, but the financial impulse just isn’t the way most reporters think in most newsrooms. Having a big front page photo isn’t going to affect the paycheck of the reporter, or of the photographer if the paper still has a photo department rather than expecting reporters to carry cameras. In the current media environment, it’s fair to say no reporter gets into the business because he or she cares very much about money. If the reporter is any good at his job, most other things he could do with his college degree will pay more, and probably much more.

      Dr. Clark, I realize you saw what you saw in newsrooms. A merger of the interests of the news department with the advertising department can happen, particularly in smaller-market media. My own experience in media, and this is dating back to the mid-1980s, was very different in both small town newspapers and regional (non-metropolitan) newspapers, and my friends in TV journalism would say the same about the ad department having little to no influence on their work.

      Ironically, at the national level, FOX News under Roger Ailes was unusual in emphasizing the importance of ratings for individual people and for individual broadcasts rather than for entire shows over an extended period, and that’s something reporters who have jumped from FOX to CNN or MSNBC or the “big three” broadcast networks, or made the reverse move, have commented on for years. Obviously ratings **DO** matter — “sweeps week” was important for decades before FOX News existed — but ratings matter much more to FOX than to the others.

      When dealing with media below the level of the national broadcast and cable TV networks, and when dealing with traditional print media even at the national level, it’s common for a “Great Wall of China” (yeah, not politically correct today, but that’s what it used to be called) to be built between the newsroom and the advertising department. It’s not unusual for newspaper buildings to be designed to minimize contact between those two departments, whether that means being on separate floors or something else. I’ve even seen situations where reporters were told to break off romantic relationships with advertising salespeople, not so much on the grounds that the relationship was inappropriate (they were in different departments, after all, with no authority over each other and no shared work duties) but on the grounds that the relationship would create a perception that news decisions were being influenced by financial considerations.

      I know that much has changed with the rise of the internet and the financial collapse of traditional print media. There are newsrooms, even in traditional media, which are engaging in “clickbait” practices that would be utterly unacceptable a few decades ago. Decades ago, the “screaming headlines” were mostly the purview of tabloid newspapers, not just the National Enquirer but also normal dailies in larger cities such as the New York Post (owned by Murdoch, by the way). That’s moved from the tabloids into the internet and also to much of the more standard print media.

      But I do think the financial motive in newsroom is being overplayed. That’s just not the way most reporters work.

      Liberals like to blame “corporate media” for supposedly not being liberal enough, and being influenced by shareholders not to upset the apple cart. Conservatives, with considerably more justification, say that big city corporate executives are making decisions for entire chains of newspapers and television stations based on big city viewpoints that just don’t make sense in smaller towns. Case in point — one newspaper for which I worked many years ago ran a full-page feature produced by the corporate headquarters on how to eat less meat. Maybe that sounds good to big city executives, but it infuriated the local cattleman’s association — ranching was important in that county — and I had to spend weeks apologizing for an utterly idiotic decision that I knew nothing about until the newspaper showed up on people’s doorsteps because the page wasn’t produced by our local news department, and apparently nobody in the ad department, which used the pre-produced page without telling us, realized how angry it would make many of our readers.

      Both the liberal and conservative critics of “corporate media” have a partial point, but it’s much less clearcut than what either group of critics think. With unusual exceptions, mostly in smaller media, news isn’t being covered up because it offends advertisers. When news is being covered up, it’s because reporters at larger media tend to be liberal, tend not to talk very often to people who think differently from themselves, and the result is they miss stories or fail to see their importance.

      That’s more of an urban-rural and liberal-conservative divide than a matter of money talking and silencing those who disagree.

  5. Francis Schaeffer called them “co-belligerents.” He was very strict about identifying those who are true allies. There were some odd groupings in the pro-life battle in the 1970s.

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