Heidelcast 193: Taking Calls On Christian Platonism And Covid-19 Restrictions

We are taking a break from the series, What Must A Christian Believe to take some calls and answer some questions. The first question comes from Deborah in Chicago who asks about the trend among evangelicals to talk about “Christian Platonism.” What is it and why is this trend or movement occurring? What is Platonism? Why are evangelicals taking this turn? How should we relate the Christian faith to philosophy generally but especially is it true that, without Plato we cannot properly read Scripture or we would not have our Nicene doctrine of the Trinity? The second question comes from Kyle in Northern Alberta and he asks about the controversy associated, as he reports, with some Particular Baptist churches in Canada over submitting to Canada’s Covid-19 regime. He asks whence the views about church state, about human flourishing, and about the autonomy of the church relative to all civil or secular regulation. Should we agree with these churches and if not, why not? Lord willing, we will return to the series, What Must A Christian Believe (ep. 11) next time.

 

 

 

 

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14 comments

  1. The question I have is, “Does an Emperor Rule the United States?” The Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights comprise the form of government, the system of government that is “supreme” over the affairs and actions of men in politics is it not?

    And where men abuse their power, they themselves are law-breakers and have not right to make citizens law-breakers.

    “The most famous and perhaps most eloquent expression of a people’s right to “dissolve the political bands” which tie them together was penned by Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) in the Declaration of Independence:

    When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation….

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness… it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.****” (https://oll.libertyfund.org/quote/jefferson-on-the-right-to-change-one-s-government-1776)

    The question I am asking is a general one. It seems clear in the Founding Documents that no man, group of men, or woman is the authority to be obeyed. Rather, the Founding Documents.

    I would like to hear what you have to say about this aspect of submitting to the government in the United States as it is found in its Form of Government that claims it alone to be the Supreme Law of the Land. (Supremacy Clause)

    Great show. Thanks.

    • Ron,

      Thanks for listening.

      It is true that the USA is a nation of laws and not persons but we may not, thereby, ignore the biblical teaching about submission to the magistrates. Rome was an empire of laws or it was supposed to be. Even in the USA laws must be written by legislatures (humans), interpreted by courts (more humans), and applied by the executive branch (yet more humans).

      Yes, the American Founders intended the Declaration to articulate basic principles of human liberty and the Constitution to limit the authority and power of the federal government. It is also true, as historians of the USA will tell us, that there are in fact multiple American republics. There is the Revolutionary republic before the civil war, the republic between the Civil War and the Great Depression, and the welfare-state republic post-FDR. The federal government has not paid much attention to the Constitution since the Wilson Administration.

      We still have to submit to the government until they require us to do what God has commanded us not to do (Acts 5:29). At that point we must obey God rather than men. The Declaration and the Constitution are gifts and wonderful but they’re not inspired. God’s Word is. As citizens we ought to seek to restore our founding documents to their proper place. We need lawyers and organizations and legislators to advocate for them and we Christians ought to be involved in that project but because we live in a twofold kingdom, we must also recognize that we have a heavenly citizenship and that citizenship requires us to submit even to tyrants until they call us to deny Christ.

  2. Thank you. The tension is there with what the Supreme Law of the Land states citizens can do against rogue powers. From what I can tell, the war for independence embraced such because the citizens were not able to fulfill God’s Law under the tyranny. Mayhew’s work,1750 seems illuminating. Challenges is when tyrannts take over and become a law to themselves, we may find ourselves in a similar position as Bonhoeffer lest we continue to sing while the “train” of slaughter rolls by with the unborn crying out, or soldiers are continued to be sent to their deaths for no legitimate reason such as the last 13. The lesser crimes are known and are increasing in degree such as with the DOJ and the stasis style threats against parents who they are trying to force into giving up their duties as parents under the Fifth Commandment to raise their children.

    The two-kingdom reality comes with it the challenge of sphere sovereignty and its distinguishing characteristics. At just what point the magistrate is to be obeyed seems to be quite challenging to grasp.

    Don’t you think?

    • Ron,

      The American Revolution happened for many reasons. Certainly religious liberty was one of them but your single cause explanation is insufficient. For one thing, the American Republic was founded on natural law, not the Scriptures. The Declaration appealed to the law of nature. To be sure, God did give the law of nature but the religious motives of the founders were mixed at best. They weren’t all Deists but they weren’t all orthodox Christians either.

      Are we facing tyranny? Sometimes it seems closer than I ever thought it would be in my life time. The speed and coordination of the vaccine mandates, at least in blue states, is alarming. Nevertheless, this isn’t Nazi Germany. Our culture and government is much more like the decadent Weimar Republic. Americans do need to wake up. They need to engage their representative bodies and they need to vote with their liberties in mind.

      Christians ought to pray that God the Spirit would do what only he can do: soften hearts and open eyes, grant new life and true faith to all the elect everywhere.

  3. And a good question would be concerning the beheading of John by that “fox” Herod. I do appreciate your response. On the other hand, do we have a recorded event in Scripture both by John’s activities against Herod and our Lord’s exposing an evil ruler for what he was?

    Thanks for your response and hope to hear your comments on the aforementioned.

    • John was an OT prophet speaking to Israel, the national people. The USA isn’t national Israel. That’s an important distinction.

      The church as such can speak to the state in extraordinary circumstances.

  4. The principle in standing for righteousness in any situation, nation or government is what I was driving at. Regardless, I consider many things that most don’t even know what is going on as extraordinary circumstances. I would assume there are many Christians who are just saying it is in the Lord’s hands. Which is true. But it is equally true that He establishes human responsibility. He does not abrogate it.

    Of course, I oppose financially supporting the slaughter of infants in the womb, or now being left to die after a “failed” abortion while the doctor and woman decide what to do with the body. The Biden admin has brought about forced taxation that supports abortion.

    As one whose grandparents fled a Communist Country over one hundred years ago, I probably see a lot more extraordinary circumstances than most. Why should I have to do anything with the evil deeds of darkness and not expose them? Especially in a country that promotes such? At least for the time. Rapidly, parents are being ruled out of that process at the school boards.

    • Ron,

      We should distinguish between civic or judicial righteousness and righteousness before God. Yes, we want the civil magistrate to be righteous but we should also let the example of the Apostles and the early pre-Constantinian church guide us. The Roman emperors did all manner of evil and directly to Christians. They arrested them, tortured them, and even martyred them. The church as an institution did not file a complaint. Theologians did write apologies (defenses) of the Christians to the emperor trying to explain that we (the Christians) are no threat to the status quo. We see no political action by the visible church in the New Testament. We see virtually no comment on the part of the apostles about the crimes committed by pagans.

      Chemic abortion existed in the ancient world. It was fairly widely practiced, as was abandonment of infants, by the pagans. Again, the Christians made clear that they rejected abortion, infanticide, and abandonment of infants but I do not know of a case where the early Christians or church expressed a policy view. The treatise to Diognetus (probably a speech) distinguishes the Christian view of infants from the pagan but the author did not tell Diognetus (a pagan and likely a Roman official) what the Roman policy should be regarding abortion.

      We have powerful weapons at our disposal that we may use:

      1) the preaching of the law and the gospel;
      2) the administration of the sacraments;
      3) prayer.

      As I keep saying, Christians ought to engage the culture and speak to it graciously but let us also be realistic about what this world is. Americans have civil liberties articulated in our Declaration and guaranteed in our Constitution and we ought to advocate for them but we do that a citizens and not as those seeking a “Christian America.”

    • Should not the form of government have some effect on our interaction with it. As citizens of the United States we have a direct role in their own government. Our rights to vote and express political opinions make U.S. citizens partly responsible for the sins of the politicians they elect. Those who voted for pro-slavery politicians and those today that vote for pro-abortion politicians are responsible for those votes. Our right to free speech is equally a responsibility. We are responsible for what we say and what we do not say with this right.

  5. I appreciate your comments. I don’t necessarily follow the various republics. My view has a more comprehensive understanding on what took place in the providence of God and the interpretation of the events. And although I may hold to some of the tenets of the “Two Kingdom” view, it will all depend on what the individual means by what they claim to be true about the “Two Kingdoms.” Regardless of who rights what laws, (which are often more policies), they all will be held accountable by the Living God and His Standard of Righteousness. In Christ, all things are preeminent. Not just the “extraordinary.” Nevertheless, the idea that the Scriptures had nothing to do with the founding documents does not follow with history or a good number of those who contributed to the formation and foundation of the country.

    In the end, if all Christians are to do is wait until the “extraordinary” events happen (which is subjective), then is Christ preeminent in all things? And as for the preaching of the law and the gospel and the administration of the sacraments, they are set aside for those who are called to do so. Yes they are powerful. But in the United States, not Rome, there are mechanisms in place to prevent from losing that privilege to exercise the propagation of the gospel freely. Those mechanisms can be used by any Christian who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus and stand for truth in all things. This was clearly seen in the stand against slavery.

    The assault against Christianity has been clearly exercised for years. These matters are “extraordinary” for this country. And those who do not seem to understand just how bad it is getting, may all to soon find out their ability to preach the gospel will no longer exist. WCF 23 on the Civil Magistrate helps keep things straight.

    There is no confusion, conversion or composition being stated here about civic “righteousness” or God’s righteousness.

    • Ron,

      An argument rests on facts and details. History matters.

      No one here, least of all I, is arguing anything other than that Christ is Lord over all things. The question is how he has chosen to administer his dominion.

      I don’t doubt that there is a rising hostility to Christianity in a post-Christian world. I’ve been writing about it, in this space, for years. See the Resources page.

      The question is enter it is useful to talk about “Christian America” or to seek to recover what only really existed for about 80 years in the 19th century. See Nathan Hatch’s work on the democratization of American Christianity in the 19th century.

  6. Of course history matters. So do facts. And all if it must be interpreted by Scripture.

    The past thirty years of researching and reading original source documents have proven to be exceptional foundations for evaluating any and all history books written by those who bring revisions to history, or historical data according to their understanding to the academic stage. But they are not the Word of God.

    (BTW I leave out any personal academic achievements because I consider them to be, as Paul states, dung. I press on toward the goal for which I have been called heavenward. Rarely do I mention them. Christ is the focus. He is the one, and His Word, that is at the fore of all things.)

    Regardless, I am not sure who is talking about “Christian America.” That lies in the realm of God’s eternal decree of which is bound up in the realm of heaven in the mind of the Triune God that no man can determine. If the Lord so chooses to bring about an outpouring of salvation transforming the majority of hearts of stone in the United States into hearts of flesh, who is any man to determine what He will do? Will history, whether right or wrongly stated and that by some who think they are omniscient, or by the known “facts” whether correctly understood or not, change that? I think not.

    And if the Lord does transform hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, enables them to understand His Word far beyond the academics of the theological world (whether they are Christian or not, or hold to sound theology or not), then who is to stop Him? Who can say, “What have you done?” And that one way or another as He unfolds His power before the world?

    And if such an event occurs in the Providence of God, and Christians take up positions in the political realm with the citizenry putting them there, backing them, and pressing for laws that follow a sound understanding of the Moral Law of God, who is little man to stop Him from changing historical facts yet to occur?

    The Law of God, when properly preached from the pulpit, or propagated by those who chose to stand for righteousness in all spheres of their individual sovereignty, is living and active. And it will, by the grace of God, through the active work of the Spirit of God, lead whoever He chooses to Christ. And Christ can even use those who use His Word to discredit Him to crush their folly. And the Lord can even use whatever He wants. If His people don’t praise Him by laying hold of His means of grace and applying it to all spheres of life, won’t He use the rocks?

    The outcome is the Lord’s regardless of what man does.

    Onward. Will America then be a Christian Nation? I have yet to read about it in Scripture. And that because the Lord’s Kingdom is not of this world. It is a Kingdom of righteous, joy and peace. Not of this world. But should He so chose that His kingdom be manifested through the work of His power in transforming hearts of stone into hearts of flesh through the work of His Word and Spirit to a degree that the majority of any nation become among the untold number of the elect, then surely righteous laws and policies will beam through that nation before the world. And a strong move of this type of work of God will result in, not boasting of America, but boasting in the Lord of Glory who was, and is, and is to come. He is the Great I AM.

    Don’t you think?

    • Ron,

      The sovereign Spirit of God works as he wills. We should pray that he will continue to bring all his elect to new life and true faith and that it has a good affect on every nation, including this one.

      Great lots of people are taking about “Christian America.” D. James Kennedy had an entire organization devoted to “Reclaiming America.” We shouldn’t forget the “Moral Majority” movement. There are multiple organizations that exist to “Take Back America for Christ” etc. Most of them tell a very dubious story about America’s Christian origins.

      As I said at the outset, the story of the relations between Christianity and the founding is complicated. It’s been (perhaps hopelessly) politicized as part of the culture wars but the story of the Atheist Left (there was no Christian influence, all the founders were deists) and that of the Christian Right (e.g., George Washington was an orthodox evangelical Christian and the founders were mostly Christian) are both risible.

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