I read Doug and Dr. Beckwith here, with Dr. Beckwith amening our radical Presbyterian homeboy, and it all seems very reasonable and humane.

Then I open my Bible this morning to Act 26, and I’m reading there about Paul who — as Doug rightly pointed out at his blog — preached the Gospel to those in the highest political places in the ancient world. And as Paul preaches, I read him saying, “Agrippa and Festus: the Roman province under your command needs to be christened because politics is not a necessary evil and and vice needs to be more difficult to obtain.”

Anyone? Yeah, see: here’s Paul about 15 minutes from being convicted & sentenced to death, and rather than seeking a political revolution or solution, or seeking to speak some kind of political innovation to Agrippa and Festus, what’s he say? “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”

The implications there are absolutely more radical than innovations of secular law, and you don’t need a “modernist” view of government (which, btw, I might concede to Dr. Beckwith) to see that Paul’s vision is not political and it does not require or seek the reformation of politics.

One of the things I think Dr. Beckwith may not be fully informed about in locking arms with DW is that Doug’s a post-millennialist, and believes that the Gospel wins the whole world to Christ before Christ’s return. Let me say that I love the optimism of that view and think that all of us non-post-mil folks could learn a thing or 100 from guys like Doug about having a Rom 1:16 confidence in the power of the Gospel to save. But that confidence simply translates into overconfidence in the here and now.

If one of the points of the Gospel (I want to refrain from being overly-reductive here because Doug is certainly not saying, and Dr. Beckwith is certainly not saying, that the main point of the Gospel is socio-political reform) is to reform Governments, why does Paul refrain from taking a stab at it in Act 26? Paul instead preaches the Gospel to Agrippa and Festus to win a different victory. And this is in a case where his own life is at stake — when he is about to be condemned to death for no reason at all but that he is calling the Jews and all men to repent.

And this is an important point for at least 3 reasons:

[1] Paul is not talking to the UN or the US Senate here: he’s talking to men who were monarchs ruling over a pagan system of government where the emperor is overtly a god. You would think that if Paul was on-board with the idea that government “can make it more difficult for one to drift away from [good] virtues,” he would have said something about the appalling moral conditions under the Roman emperor. I think it is extraordinarily-narrow in historical scope to project backward that the rule of law today is not far superior in the West than it was in the near-eastern provinces of Rome c. 60 AD, and that Paul was speaking to men who are civilized the way we are civilized. Yet in that circumstance, Paul opts for the Gospel rather than a speech on moral reform.

[2] It is clear from Luke’s description of Paul’s journey to this moment that Paul was resigned to death. That is: he knew that there was no moral plea to be made to reform this injustice. His hope, therefore, was in the Gospel and not in making sure this didn’t happen to anyone else. Using the reasoning from Doug and Dr. Beckwith, I think Paul would have been inclined to give up a plea for secular tolerance so that men don’t have to die for their ideas. But rather Paul pleads with Agrippa and Festus to become as he is — except for the chains.

[3] In the end, Paul pleads up to Caesar to have justice as a Roman citizen. This is an iteration of [1], but let’s make it clear: in Paul’s vision of God-ordained government, those who rule are to be honored and prayed for, even though they are even putting the messengers of the Gospel to death. I think that as Dr. Beckwith wants us to not see government as a “necessary evil”, he doesn’t actually go far enough in his reasoning — because we don’t really base our Christian view of the world on Aristotle (even if he is somewhat helpful or congruous to the truth) but on the Bible and its assertion that God ordains all government and has declared the times and places of their authority. I’d put the verse number sin here, but I’m trying to shake off the Fundie rep which has wrongly been hung on my neck.

And I say that simply to point out all the examples in Scripture where the God-established rulers were contemptable enemies of God yet were allowed to rule anyway — the first among them being Saul whom David honored as God’s annointed even in his death.

And with that said, here’s what I expect: I expect someone to say in response, “Frank, fine: so we’ll withdraw from public life and let babies die and see women again demoted to chattle and let slavery make a comeback and relinquish all the things which — let’s be honest — the Gospel has done in the west as the culture was Christianized. If we take a completely passive view of the world and have confidence in God’s decrees as you suggest, then we will just be sheep murdered for his name every day, and selah.” (or some other such nonsense which wants to say I think we should do nothing)

Here are the problems with that: it reduces “preaching a real Gospel” to “doing nothing” (which I think we should find radically offensive; more offensive than using rank scatology or calling those who disagree with us “bigots”), and it reduces the real effects of the Gospel as witnessed in History to (in the best case) accidents or merely good fortune.

Here’s what I think: for 3 centuries the Christian church suffered unto death for its faith in a Lord and Savior who rules now and in the life after life after death — and it got so far out of hand for the pagan, idolator rulers that they had to do something other than kill these people. They couldn’t kill enough of them because their deaths were a greater testimony to truth than any law enforced by the sword.

The testimony of scripture is that our love should exceed all demands of the law, and that we should not be ashamed that we are persecuted in a gonna-lose-your-life way, and that this is how we live as ambassadors to Christ. And when we do that, we are bringing the Shalom of God – we bring real peace, and real reconciliation, and real hope that there is a way to end the injustices of this life. The plea, then is toward the Gospel so that men do not enslave those in God’s image, and that women are seen as divinely-given helpers and that we do not forget the orphan or murder our own children for the sake of mere comfort and wealth.

Government is reformed when men are first reformed. Even our mixed-bag of founding fathers knew that law does not instill morals but that only a moral (read: Christian) people can live under law with freedom.

There’s plenty more to be said here, and I’ll be glad to say it. However, it’s only fair to give the other side a chance to make their case.

Articles by Frank Turk

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