Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Frazer's Hermeneutic And the History of Orthodox Christian Political Theology

With Editorial Suggestions by Jonathan Rowe

My last few posts argued American Founding era political theology created a "Big Tent of Diverse Interests" that allowed various Christian factions of the country to put aside the doctrinal differences that privately divided them and embrace political ideas that publicly united them.

This post continues in that vein.

I stressed that two God terms in the Declaration of Independence were added by the Continental Congress to appeal to Calvinists. This, I think, strengthened the connection between the political-theology of the DOI and Calvinistic notions of interposition.

Then, to better inform myself on the matter, I just carefully read the exchange between Jim Babka and Gregg Frazer that was part of "Romans 13 round 1." You will see Babka and I, for the most part, agree on Romans 13 & Christian history. We stress how Dr. Frazer downplays the later Calvinists (not necessarily Calvin himself) like Rutherford whose teachings on "interposition" transition into those of the Declaration of Independence.

As Dr. Frazer wrote:

A second argument THAT I DID NOT MAKE which you refute at great length is the idea that everyone who supported the Revolution (or the idea of revolution) was Unitarian and that “Unitarianism was required to get around” Divine Right of Kings. I SAID NO SUCH THING – nor did I imply it. I said (and I quote): “one must move away from Calvin (whether to Arminianism or Unitarianism) in order to support the revolution.” Your extensive quest to show trinitarian support for revolution is interesting, but irrelevant. No one denied that one could be trinitarian and support the Revolution. You then list a number of Calvinists who supported revolution, but I never denied that people identifying themselves as Calvinists supported revolution. I said that Calvin did not and that many churches held Calvin’s view and that that was a hurdle which had to be overcome – hence, the significance of Mayhew’s landmark sermon (which would not have been landmark if Rutherford’s view were the norm).

I also did not say or even imply that Unitarians “had the next largest plurality” after Calvinists – I said nothing about unitarianism as a denomination. I also said nothing about Calvinist denominations in terms of percentages of churches – I spoke about the theology. I said (and I quote again): “Calvin’s view was the majority view in the century leading up to the Revolution.” [emphasis added] One need not be a Calvinist or a member of one of the 1300 Calvinist churches (compared to <900 Baptist/Episcopalian/Anglican churches) to hold Calvin’s view of Romans 13 and against revolution. That view – based on what Romans 13 actually says -- was the majority view throughout the history of the church up to that point. Jonathan Boucher and Samuel Seabury (for example) were prominent Anglican ministers who argued the traditional literal (and biblical) view of Romans 13 and against revolution.

This begs the question: Why is Frazer's view of unlimited submission that dominated Christendom until the age of revolution given any special historical weight when, for over the past 200 plus years, Christianity -- indeed orthodox Christianity -- reconciled itself with the permissibility of revolt as per Romans 13 (under certain circumstances)?

Indeed, keep in mind, dissident strains within Christendom intimated the permissibility of revolt for hundreds of years before the American Revolution.

My co-blogger Jon Rowe noted my main issue with Frazer is that we have two different hermeneutics. Perhaps yes, but, I argue mine, like Mayhew before me, is taken straight from the Bible's text and is just as historically Christian and valid as Frazer's. In fact, after reading what Calvin actually stated, I believe mine might even be John Calvin's.

Before my next post on Calvin's view on Interposition I pose the following questions:

1. Is the Mayhew interpretation of Romans 13 straight from the Bible's text?

2. Is that interpretation historically Christian?

3. Does Mayhew's interpretation fit with Calvinistic notions of "interposition"?

If we answer yes to all three, that would explain why enough Presbyterians joined the American Revolution such that it was termed a "Presbyterian Parson’s rebellion."

Before I end, here is one quote from John Adams on Romans 13 recited in his Proclamation of 1799 to keep in mind. Ask how "Christian" this quote sounds to you.

"that He would bless all magistrates, from the highest to the lowest, give them the true spirit of their station, make them a terror to evil doers and a praise to them that do well;"

--John Adams


Tom Van Dyke said...

Same hermeneutic.

Enough already. Mercy.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I never denied that people identifying themselves as Calvinists supported revolution. I said that Calvin did not and that many churches held Calvin’s view and that that was a hurdle which had to be overcome – hence, the significance of Mayhew’s landmark sermon (which would not have been landmark if Rutherford’s view were the norm).

This is a good argument; however, it appears to me that Mayhew is still claiming the mantle of the Puritan Revolution, and moreover, explicitly denies it was a rebellion contra Romans 13:

For what reason the resistance to king Charles the First was made?

By whom it was made?

Whether this resistance was REBELLION, or not?

§ N.B. I speak of rebellion, treason, saintship, martyrdom, &c. throughout this discourse, only in the scriptural and theological sense. I know not how the law defines them; the study of that not being my employment.

And isn't this "interposition?"---

But by whom was this resistance made? Not by a private junta;--not by a small seditious party;--not by a few desperadoes, who, to mend their fortunes, would embroil the state;--but by the LORDS and COMMONS of England. It was they that almost unanimously opposed the king's measures for overturning the constitution, and changing that free and happy government into a wretched, absolute monarchy. It was they that when the king was about levying forces against his subjects, in order to make himself absolute, commissioned officers, and raised an army to defend themselves and the public: And it was they that maintained the war against him all along, till he was made a prisoner. This is indisputable.


The next question which naturally arises, is, whether this resistance which was made to the king by the parliament, was properly rebellion, or not? The answer to which is plain, that it was not; but a most righteous and glorious stand, made in defense of the natural and legal rights of the people, against the unnatural and illegal encroachments of arbitrary power.

Mayhew explicitly denies it was a rebellion, and indicates it was an "interposition," at least in these non-Calvinist eyes.

Clearly, the popularity of this sermon was in that it cleared the same Calvinist hurdles that Rutherford and the Puritan Revolution had 100 years before in Britain.

And keep in mind that this sermon is from 1750, long before things got violent. [Indeed, it ends with a call to obey the King.]

But there were over 20 years---a generation---for this theological/political argument to take hold in the Calvinist churches, and the idea that there could come a time when the Crown crossed a threshold and the Puritan Revolution could be repeated, and be theologically justified.

I don't see where we have any disagreement on the above facts and analysis; may we move on now?

King of Ireland said...

I have heard it said on this site and elsewhere that the DOI is infused with Enlightenment references to God and ideas. I responded that at least a good portion of the ideas that influence the Document were Christian. My first salvo in that battle was to state that it was in Interposition.

Jon stated that it was not and quoted Calvin. Dr. Frazer seems to be willing to state that it was a "Calvinist" Interposition but that Calvin would have disapproved. If I am hearing him right.

I could go into a long drawn out battle over what Calvin really meant but it does not really get us anywhere. I say, fine we will call it a "Ponnet" Interposition and my original argument stands. If Jon wants to prove that Calvin disapproved then he can make that case. For my argument to stand I just need to prove that "Calvinists" approved which is a historical fact.

The only thing left up for question is whether Mayhew was right in line with the political theology of Rutherford and Ponnet before him or if he made up something new. I do think that is worthy of exploration and germane since it is his sermon that held sway at the time.

So the question really goes to Jon and Brad. To Jon I ask if the Declaration of Independence is in consistent with a "Calvinist" Interposition argument? Brad I ask if Frazer's words about the impact Mayhew's sermon had at the time is proof that there were significant hurdles to clear Romans 13 wise and that this was a huge topic of discussion in certain factions of the country?

Then yes Tom we can move on. You stated you want to here Pinky's public private arguments. Well this post sets him up to do that. Look at the first few lines about public and private. This post also could be a door to the whole individual vs. community theme. Private doctrinal differences vs. voluntary community idea of the "Big Tent".

Or my personal favorite is the whole reason vs. revelation discussion. I think that might be why we see "all men created equal' in the DOI and "by nature are equal" in the VA bill of rights.

King of Ireland said...


In the spirit of leaving the whole domain of Calvin, I just read a good article I had bookmarked by David Kopel about John of Salisbury. It seems he was the first to really popularize the resistance to tyrants thing. Interposition did start with Pope Gregory and it was starting to makes its way into Canon Law. All of the above influenced Aquinas.

I think I see your debate with Jon now that is to subtle for many to see:

He claims enlightenment for rationalist natural law arguments that made it into founding thinking. You claim Calvinized Thomism. I think I agree with the latter but need to find the link.

I think the frame of ideas instead of individual beliefs builds as strong case for Thomism. If that is true no wonder Jon clings to the Unitarian thing so hard. If his goal is to prove Barton wrong it is a good line of reasoning. I even commend him for it because I do see people show up at other sites not to be mentioned that do spout off that crap unknowingly.

BUT if the larger battle is to be one in the Enlightenment vs. Thomism battle that line of reasoning is really irrelevant. This is serious too. The French Revolution failed for good reasons.

So, the egg of Romans 13 was actually already cracking before even Aquinas.

King of Ireland said...

won not one.

Daniel said...

If the 'link' you refer to is a clear link between Scholasticism and early America, let me suggest a couple interesting links.

First is the Scottish connection, particularly through Francis Hutchinson and Thomas Reid. They developed what came to be called Scottish Common Sense Philosophy or Scottish Realism. It looks amazingly like Thomism although it is rooted in Enlightenment assumptions.

Second is Puritan Scholasticism. According to 'Three Centuries of Harvard, 1636-1936 By Samuel Eliot Morison', p 31:
"In Ethics, the Harvard students used Aristotle and manuals based on him . . . their Metaphysics was largely Aristotelian; Astronomy and Physics (which then comprehended almost all Natural Science) in Dunster's day was purely Aristotelian."

This was the curriculum that was intended to educate Puritan ministers. Aristotle was not Aquinas, but Aristotle had been adapted to Christian purposes with Aquinas first showing the way and Puritan ministers were being educated in Ethics and Metaphysics rooted in a pagan source. By the beginning of the 18th century, the curriculum had shifted to one that was more Enlightenment and less Scholastic, but the connection is there.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Great stuff, Daniel, and links I meself was not familiar with. If you want to do a guest post on this, let us know.