Sunday, May 31, 2020

Frazer on Riots and Resistance

Gregg Frazer sends along the following note on rioting and resistance. His comments are below.

I’m curious: what is the reaction of you guys (esp. Mark) who believe in a “right of resistance” to the riots in Minneapolis and other cities?  Americans generally celebrate the exercise of rights – so are you cheering the exercise of their “right of resistance” by people who claim to be tyrannized?  I know that you are required to approve of it, I just wonder if you’re enthusiastically supporting it.

Mark is writing a book claiming that the American Revolution was just. The current rebels have probably destroyed as much private property (in terms of value) as those who did the Boston Tea Party (but without the charming Indian outfits).  Should it be revered in future textbooks?  Face masks aren’t nearly as picturesque as feathers and moccasins. But they claim to be resisting tyranny, so are you celebrating their efforts?

We know that people who don’t like duly-passed government policies have a right to use force and violence to impose their will against that of the legal authorities because they have a “right” to do so.  We know that efforts by the legal authorities to enforce the law are themselves tyrannical and that governments do not have a right to maintain order if a particularly noisy portion of the population objects.

Has the bottle- and rock-throwing of these freedom fighters been enough to venerate – even though they couldn’t goad the authorities into a Boston Massacre-type end result?  Is their attempt to do so enough to warrant a Freedom Trail in Minneapolis or outside the White House, or does someone have to die?

Have they looted enough private property (big-screen TVs, etc.) and assaulted enough law enforcement personnel to be celebrated with the hallowed ranks of the mobs who attacked Loyalists, stamp agents, and government officers in the 1770s?

They have fallen somewhat short of the sterling example set by the 1776 “patriots” because they haven’t confiscated the property of those who simply hold a different political view and they haven’t yet imprisoned their political opponents without due process of law.  They’re not even requiring their fellow citizens to sign oaths of allegiance to their cause or threatening the freedom and livelihood of those who refuse – but give them time. They haven’t denied freedom of religion by closing churches, denied freedom of the press by destroying the presses of their opponents and burning their publications, or denied freedom of speech by sending mobs to the homes of those who express a different opinion.  But they’ve made a good start, haven’t they? You can at least hope that some tarring and feathering is in the works.

Apparently, carrying on the honored tradition of the Committees of Correspondence, many of these rioters are organized and shipped in from outside the community. The rabble-rousers of the 1770s (e.g. Sam Adams and John Hancock) would be proud.

Perhaps they’ll achieve the level of rebellion and social disruption of your heroes: the “Patriots” in 1776 and the Southerners in 1861.  After all, the U.S. government today taxes millions of Americans without representation – in Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Samoa, the Northern Marianas, and the nation’s capital: Washington, D.C.  The time to “resist” is long overdue – right?  These “patriots” focused on “systemic injustice” are perhaps the vanguard of a larger movement.  Perhaps they’ll get the support of 1/3 of Americans; we know that level has been established as sufficient to justify war and to cast off the authority of a government.

Frazer Responds to Hall's Article on Reformed Resistance

See the article that Mark David Hall co-wrote with Sarah Morgan Smith here. Gregg Frazer's comments are below.


In the original set of “comments” on Mr. Hart’s question about Calvin’s views, Mark included the following excerpt from an article he had co-written:
“These events seem to have encouraged Calvin to embrace a more radical approach to resisting tyrants. For instance, in a 1560 sermon on Melchizedek, Calvin contends that Abraham was a private person who received a ‘special vocation’ to pick up the sword to save his people from ungodly rulers. A wave of violence against the Huguenots beginning in 1561 apparently inspired even further movement. In a 1562 sermon, he contended that all citizens—public and private alike—have an obligation to pursue justice and righteousness. ‘We should resist evil as much as we can. And this has been enjoined on all people in general; I tell you, this was said not only to princes, magistrates, and public prosecutors, but also to all private persons.’”
In a previous post, I noted that this was clearly a spiritual command for every individual – no matter their station in life – to be holy and resist evil in that sense (not permission to rebel against authority).  If interested, one can look up the previous discussion to see the Bible verses and arguments I made. I want to return to the first part of the excerpt, though, and Mark’s conclusions from it that Calvin changed his mind about these issues in later years.  In my original response, I noted that Calvin had discussed the role of special avengers sent from God 25 years earlier in the Institutes – this was not a new revelation for him. Given that some do not always report all the relevant information that we need from a quotation’s context, I went back to the 1560 sermon on Melchizedek to which Mark referred.  The following is some of what Calvin says there:

“we must hold this for a general rule. That it is not lawful for any man whatsoever, to take Arms upon him. For it is God alone that must do that.  …  no man may use force and violence, without he receive the same from him [God] to which it belongeth.  And therefore there are none but Kings, Princes, and, Magistrates, that may take Arms upon them, and with whom men may join themselves.  …  God taketh this office of revenge unto himself, if there be any extremity and wrong committed, because it is his office to punish the same  …  he that shall arm himself, robbeth God as I have already said, of the jurisdiction which he giveth to himself for the defense of hisTo be short, private persons ought not only to abstain from all kind of violence, but also are to have a quiet and peaceable mind to suffer ….”
 Re Abram:

“Abram is not to be accounted of as the rest, seeing that God himself had testified unto him that he gave him the possession of this land  …  God might for once, give leave and liberty unto his servant Abram, to exercise the force of the sword  …  God giveth oftentimes singular motions unto his servants, which we must not draw unto ourselves to follow. … certain men whom God had stirred up to aide his people, the same are so many testimonies unto us, to show that we should not think, that there is always an assured and certain election [choice], when any one man should be armed, with the sword and with authority.  … all that which is here recited unto us, is not for us to make a general rule thereof. For it were a mockery and a foolish argument for us this to reason.”
 Speaking of other specially chosen deliverers executing God’s judgment:

“they had their particular motions, as if they had been privileged thereunto by a public law. And we are in all things to note, that when God worketh extraordinarily, being grounded upon his word, that privilege is not of us to be usurped.  … if I shall do the like that he doeth which is privileged: I shall join myself with him that would separate himself from the common order. For we must leave the authority of Kings and Magistrates to do whatsoever they know to be best for the commonweal …  so often as we shall see God minded to remember the redemption and deliverance of his Church by such as he hath ordained to be as it were ministers of his own preparing, we must understand, these to be singular acts past from his own hand. And those men to be chosen by him: and armed also by his authority and power.” 

“God would thereby show him, that when he intended to put his successors in possession of the land, that it was an easy matter for him [God] to do it  …  when GOD sendeth us any afflictions, although at the first they be ever so hard and grievous, yet for all that, in the end, the issue of them if profitable and beneficial to our good.”  [in other words, God does these deliverances for His glory and, although suffering is a constituent element of Christianity, God works everything together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).
Clearly, there is no movement on the part of Calvin on this issue.  God may remove tyrants – that’s His role and right.  He may use special agents to do so on His behalf for His purposes according to His judgment.  But individuals or groups of people are not to usurp that role from God, take up arms, or presume that they have any right to do so.  The role of the people is to obey and suffer (if necessary).  Calvin says to try to make this into a general approval of rebellion is a “mockery” of God’s rule and a “foolish argument.” These are all the same things Calvin taught 25 years earlier in the Institutes.  In the context, Calvin specifically and pointedly says the opposite of Mark’s conclusion. In general, if one did not know that Calvin wrote 500 years ago and Mark just a few years ago, one might think that Calvin wrote specifically to counter Mark’s claims.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Frazer Responds to Van Dyke III

Tom Van Dyke made three comments (onetwo, and three) on 5/28/20. Gregg Frazer responds to them below.


Mr. Van Dyke: You persist in making claims in my name that I do not make.

I am not arguing that no one else held some of the same views as Locke.  I am arguing about who actually influenced the “patriot” preachers.

Re “Just because Locke was cited does not mean that those ideas and arguments were not already part of the growing body of Christian/Protestant/"Calvinist" political theology”: OK, but I’m not arguing that they didn’t have some of the same ideas – I’m arguing that the “patriot” preachers did not get them from “the growing body of Christian/Protestant/’Calvinist’ political theology,” but from Locke.  I’m arguing the apparently controversial notion that they got the ideas from the source they said they got them from.

You and Mark largely hold the same views.  If someone reads Mark’s book and cites him in support of their own view, is it equally valid to claim that you influenced them?  It makes no difference who they cited for the ideas they’re expressing?

The fact that someone cites Locke and not anyone in the cast of “Reformed” characters does not indicate that they got their ideas from Locke? – irrespective of whether the ideas of others are similar?

It is, of course, not necessary for someone to directly quote from a source that influenced their thought, but to attempt to satisfy Mr. Van Dyke, here’s an example of a “patriot” preacher quoting Locke directly:

“Men in society having property, they have such a right to the goods, which by the law of the community are theirs, that nobody hath a right to take their substance, or any part of it from them, without their own consent: Without this they have no property at all; for I have truly no property in that, which another can by right take from me when he pleases against my consent. Hence it is a mistake to think, that the supreme or legislative power of any commonwealth, can do what it will, and dispose of the estates of the subject arbitrarily, or take any part of them at pleasure.  Lock on civil Government”

-- John Tucker, An Election Sermon, Boston, 1771

Next from you is a demand that Mark supply direct quotes from Beza or another Reformer in a “patriot” sermon – right?  I’ve noticed that “read my book” isn’t OK when I say it, but it’s fine with you when Mark does.

Almost all” is an important distinction.  I would be interested to see, for example, a 16th-century “Reformed” writer building his argument on the state of nature. “Social contract” was not a Founding principle?  You might have trouble telling that to Jefferson, Bernard Bailyn, Clinton Rossiter, Pauline Maier, Forrest McDonald, and countless other scholars of the Founding.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Frazer Responds to Van Dyke, Part II

Below is the second part of Gregg Frazer's response to Tom Van Dyke's post (The first part is here).


As I looked up Mayhew’s affirmation of Locke’s influence, I was reminded that Samuel Clarke was perhaps the greatest theological influence on Mayhew (apart from politics).  That, in turn, reminded me of the important gap in Mark’s thesis.  In Roger Sherman and the Creation of the American Republic (in which he makes the lengthiest argument for “Reformed” influence), Mark points out that most preachers of the period were graduates of Harvard or Yale (p 28).  That works against his thesis and in favor of mine. 

As early as 1701, the belief that Harvard had forsaken the fundamentals of the [Reformed] faith was a key factor in the founding of Yale.  Pressure was brought to start a new college because congregations were complaining about the poor quality (in terms of orthodoxy) of ministers Harvard was producing.  Many churches remained orthodox, but the graduates they received from Harvard were humanistic rationalists.  Harvard had a “Satan’s bookshelf” of rationalist authors whose works were an essential part of Harvard’s intellectual milieu as early as 1723.  For 40 years, Harvard’s famed Dudleian lectures taught Harvard students that reason and natural religion were the core of religion. The last such lecture in 1799 was a defense of religion against atheism spawned by rationalism.

Ministerial graduates from Harvard found their alma mater a disadvantage because of its reputation.  According to Josiah Quincy’s History of Harvard University, the “most eminent” of the clergymen who “openly avowed … Arminianism, Arianism, Pelagianism, Socinianism, and Deism” were alumni from Harvard.  Graduates said “the tendency of all classes was to skepticism” and testified of a prevailing “infidel and irreligious spirit.”  The theology professorship was vacant for a time and Harvard came to be regarded as an appropriate training ground only for unitarian pulpits.  In the 1740s, famed evangelist George Whitefield said: “As for the Universities, I believe it may be said, their Light is become Darkness” and he complained of the low state of religion among the clergy at both Harvard and Yale.  When he visited Harvard, Whitefield preached on the text “We are not as many who corrupt the Word of God” and applied its conclusion as a rebuke of the professors and students.  Similar descriptions and remarks were made about Yale from 1714 on by such luminaries as Samuel Johnson, Lyman Beecher, and Timothy Dwight.  When Dwight became president of Yale, he reported that “European rationalistic philosophers were popular and students considered it smart to be called by the name of some infidel.”

I could go on and on with this evidence – and I do in chapter three of The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders – but perhaps most important are the well-documented attacks on Calvinism leading up to the Revolutionary era.

Graduates from Harvard and Yale in the 18th century were studying Enlightenment rationalist authors, not Calvin or Beza, etc.  That is the reason they didn’t cite Beza or other Reformers; they cited what they knew – writers such as Locke.

Frazer Responds to Van Dyke, Part I

Gregg Frazer responds to Tom Van Dyke's post; it's divided up into two posts and this is the first. His comments are below.


I’m not speculating that Mayhew was influenced by Locke; he says so.  In his sermon “The Snare Broken,” Mayhew specifically says that he was influenced by Locke because he “seemed rational” (which, in Mayhew's mind, is the highest compliment he could bestow).  For the record, I do mention this in my first book, The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders.  Starting with Elisha Williams (who Mark quotes in his most recent book) in 1741, a lot of preachers cited Locke by name – who among them cited Beza?

As for “Lockean,” I am happy to dilate.  In The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders, I lay out basic Lockean principles and demonstrate how the “patriot” preachers followed and promoted those principles.  They are: a state of nature; equality; consent; the law of self-preservation; popular sovereignty; self-determination; the social contract; rulers accountability to the people; the common interest as the purpose of government; natural rights; political liberty; confidence in the majority; republican government; and resistance to tyranny.

These should all sound familiar because of Locke’s influence that virtually everyone recognizes to one degree or another – most to a great degree.

Yes, Mayhew’s sermon was delivered decades before the immediate rebellion-provoking events.  That allowed his ideas to disseminate broadly and to be, as Adams said, “read by everybody.”  Surely Mr. Van Dyke is not suggesting that someone cannot be influenced by a work written many years before.  That would invalidate this entire website.

The fact that Mayhew – and every other – preacher used a passage from the Bible as a springboard for what he wanted to say does not mean that his source authority is Paul or that the premises are theological.  For Mayhew, revelation (the Bible) was secondary to reason and, in fact, reason determined what counted as revelation.  He believed that God Himself was limited by “the everlasting tables of right reason.”  Mayhew was speaking to a congregation who expected him to speak from/about the Bible.  So he said what he wanted irrespective of what the Bible actually said and then claimed that Paul said what Mayhew wanted to say.  In other words, he would have fit in quite well in 21st-century America.

I did NOT concede that “the prior Reformers ‘influenced’ Locke” and the link doesn’t take one to a place where I supposedly did.

As for Strauss and Straussians, Mr. Van Dyke is much more enthralled with him/them than I.  Truth be told, much too much is made of the singularities of Straussianism.  Either way, I do not identify as a Straussian – and for Mr. Van Dyke and for Mark, self identification is determinative, right?  I listed two Straussians among those who disagree with Mark’s “take” and who’ve had some influence on my views, but I listed FIVE non-Straussians (plus “others”).  My view is not dependent on Strauss or identical with Strauss’s.  In his peer review of my manuscript, Pangle pointed to a couple of things upon which he and I agreed to disagree.

Mr. Van Dyke says: "Gregg doesn't do it [provide argument and evidence somewhere what was uniquely 'Lockean'] here at American Creation among his tens of thousands of words on this topic, and he doesn't do it in his book either. This is the lacuna in his thesis. He may be right about Locke and the Reformed preachers, but he hasn't begun to prove it.”  I actually do prove it with numerous quotes from the “patriot” preachers in chapter three of The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders – including references to whole sections of sermons that are extensive direct quotations from Locke. Some have read the book and could confirm that.  In his much-celebrated Sacred Scripture, Sacred War, James Byrd also concludes that “many” preachers blended “the philosophy of John Locke” with references to the Bible.

Frazer Responds to Hall's Comment on May 25 about John Fea

Gregg Frazer's response to Mark David Hall's comment on May 25 about John Fea is below:


On a May 25 comment in response to my defense of John Fea, Mark says; “To my way of thinking, if one is interested in Calvin's view of resisting tyrants one should read Calvin, not rely on an unpublished dissertation no matter how good it is. But perhaps that is just me.”

I would point out to those who have not read Fea’s book or the specific part that Mark referenced: Fea quoted four statements of Calvin accurately (though indirectly) before summarizing with a quote from a secondary source (the dissertation in question).  That is four more quotes from Calvin in support of the point he is making than Mark can muster from Calvin calling for armed or violent rebellion/resistance or appealing to “lesser/inferior magistrates.”  As long as the quotes are accurate, why does it matter if they come via another source?

Fea concludes that part of his argument by quoting the author of the dissertation.  We all – Mark included – use secondary quotes that we find pithy to summarize points.  The 12th footnote in Mark’s most recent book is an “as quoted in.” Starting with footnote #25, he has numerous references to something quoted in secondary sources – most prominently and most often in his own The Sacred Rights of Conscience (which is a fine collection, by the way). Why doesn’t Mark cite the originals?  I don’t know any reason that Fea should be criticized for it – unless only Mark’s secondary work is to be trusted or deemed valuable.

Frazer Replies to Hall and Van Dyke's ...

Respective comments from 5/23 (Mark David Hall) and 5/24 (Tom Van Dyke), under Gregg Frazer's post from 5/22. Frazer's response is below:


Mark: I do not understand what the following sentences mean. If you’re willing, please explain: “It would be silly to say that they are obviously influenced by Gandhi because Scripture doesn't require pacifism. Yet that is exactly what Gregg does with Locke and active resistance.”

Mark is willing to cut and paste some material from his and Sarah’s article, but not any quotes supporting the repeated claims that Calvin embraced active resistance (violence/taking up arms) or that he ever spoke of “inferior magistrates.”  I suspect the reason is that there aren’t any such quotes.  I’ve never seen any (and I read the articles – though a while ago).  [This is familiar. He was willing to cut and paste some material from his book, but not anything to demonstrate the many “inaccuracies” he claimed were in my original review – other than the “unfair” “lumping”].

As for being “informed by their understanding of Scripture,” did I say they weren’t?  The issue is how they came to that understanding and the problem is a chicken and the egg problem.  They had a preferred view and read that view in light of their own contemporary circumstances into Scripture, then declared that was the meaning of Scripture.  Knox illustrates this well.  That is eisegesis.  Exegesis starts with a text in the original language and works to find what it means in its own historical and literary context – the same way we fairly study a political philosopher or any other writer if we really want to know what they meant.  It is the same way Mark wants his books to be interpreted.

I again wonder why Mr. Van Dyke is not jumping down Mark’s throat for again conflating “Reformed” tradition with “Calvinist” tradition?  Luther’s views are, of course, not very relevant to the “Calvinist” tradition (except that he and Calvin agreed on this), but he was a fairly significant Reformer – was he not?  Hasn’t Mark been claiming it is “Reformed” tradition (although he does keep switching back and forth)?  Didn’t Luther have a fairly significant role in the whole Reformation thing?

Re: “The question is, where did America's founders get the idea that tyrants may biblically and justly be resisted? The answer is the Calvinist tradition of political reflection. Locke affirmed this tradition, but didn't invent it.”

  1. If they got the ideas from Reformers, why didn’t they cite them?  And now that you’re calling it “Calvinist” in this case, why did they not cite Calvin?
  2. Why did they cite Locke instead?
  3. Where/when did Locke “affirm” the “Reformed tradition?”  Where did he cite Beza or Ponet or the others?
  4. Locke began with the “state of nature” – from which Reformer did he get that idea?

Locke’s argument is very different from that of the Reformed guys.  Locke does not appeal to “inferior magistrates” or construct a faux argument supposedly from Romans 13.  Locke’s argument is contractarian.  Interestingly, when the “patriot” preachers made their case, they: a) cited Locke; b) made the contractarian argument; and c) did not make a “lesser magistrate” argument.  You don’t need to check my chapter on the “patriot” preachers; see if you can find the “lesser magistrate” argument in James Byrd’s celebrated Sacred Scripture, Sacred War.  His index does not include Beza or Ponet; it includes three multi-page references to Mayhew. Since his book is about the Revolution, he also does not mention Calvin.

As for Locke, Byrd says of Stephen Johnson (a Connecticut preacher in a Calvinist church): “He and many other preachers typically blended constitutional arguments and the philosophy of John Locke and others with biblical exhortations to liberty (30).”  There were unspecified “others” (might include the Reformed guys, but not important enough to be mentioned), but Locke is the indispensable one.  Like me, Byrd has read the actual sermons.

Mr. Van Dyke is quite astute to suggest that the authority of Calvin was “hijacked” by later Reformers.  That is my very point and I appreciate finally getting him on my side for something.  I am pleased to affirm that he is also right that the revolutionaries (though he says “Founders”) did not carefully “por(e) over every word and phrase.”  They actually took a lot of sources grossly out of context (Blackstone and the Bible being the prime examples) in search of anything useful to make their case.  That is important to note because they clearly couldn’t find any quotes from Calvin that could even be massaged and molded into usable arguments for rebellion.  They would have jumped at them in order to win over the large portion of the population that, as Mark notes, was Calvinist. [Again, this is why Calvin matters to the overall discussion – beyond Mr. Hart’s questions]  Mark exceeds the “patriots” in his creativity.  As Mr. Van Dyke suggests, they did not spend “excruciating hours poring over the Institutes with a biblical faithfulness and fortitude” – because there was nothing useful in Calvin for their side of the argument.

Calvin matters because his views were a hurdle that had to be overcome by “patriot” preachers and they overcame it with a boost from Locke.

Mr. Van Dyke: please do me the courtesy of not basing arguments against my positions on posts from other people.  My argument here is not based on whether Calvin or Beza is right theologically or biblically. [that part of my argument was simply to help Mr. Hart]  My argument is that to the extent that “patriots” were influenced in favor of rebellion by religious arguments, they were not so influenced by Calvin, but mostly by Mayhew and Locke adapted to religion, with a few perhaps somewhat influenced by a few “Reformers.”

Yes, “it was Beza and the rest who … defined the ‘Reformed tradition’” as you and Mark are defining it. I’ve never said – in fact, I’ve denied – that Calvin defined that “tradition” of rebelling against authority.  That does not make Calvin insignificant from a historical perspective; it just means his historical significance on this question is different.  He represents the “losing” side, as you put it – but doesn’t the losing side deserve attention historically?  And isn’t it important to understand why the “winners” (e.g. Mayhew) were necessary in the first place?  The winners write history, but the winners are not always right or worthy of imitation.  Those are at least two reasons why historians also study – or should study – the losers.  There’s that whole thing about history repeating itself as a result of ignorance.

And, Mr. Van Dyke, why do you repeatedly make this “accept his theology” argument with regard to me, but not with regard to Mark?  He has told us that in his book he used a very specific and narrow definition of Christianity – one to which you do not subscribe and which does not encapsulate all of the other types/branches of “Christianity.”  As I’ve repeatedly reminded you, in my professional writing, I do not use my own personal definition of Christianity, but the definition used by the 18th-century American churches – the people we’re actually talking about.  Why do you let Mark get away with what you accuse me of doing?

From your perspective, doesn’t his definition cause you to disagree with his entire thesis?  You don’t believe that American was founded as an “orthodox” Christian nation based on conservative Reformed theology, including belief in the deity of Jesus – do you?   Why don’t you say so?

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Van Dyke Responds to Frazer's Response to Van Dyke's Response to Frazer on Hall

[68th in a series.]*

Gregg Frazer writes:
The critical issue is not who was first to come up with ideas, but who the rebels were actually influenced by. They cited Locke. And Lockean “resistance theory” is not the same as “Reformed” resistance theory; the “patriot” preachers reflect Locke’s argument, not Beza’s.
The problem exhibited over and over in Gregg's method in this discussion is that he doesn't quote John Locke directly. Gregg asserts in his book God Against the Revolution: The Loyalist Clergy's Case against the American Revolution (American Political Thought) that "Mayhew's premises were Lockean." 

The reader should assess this claim for himself. While Jonathan Mayhew is credited for getting the theological ball rolling, it is important to realize that that famous sermon, A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers* was given back in 1750, and his source authority is not John Locke, but the apostle Paul. In the text, God is mentioned 27 times, "the apostle" [Paul] 21 times, and the Devil/Satan 5 times. Locke is invoked zero times! Gregg is prudent to say Mayhew's "premises" are Lockean, but the text suggests that the premises are theological.
Mayhew's arguments here may have "ignited" the American revolution, but this was decades before the Intolerable Acts and the Boston Tea Party and Lexington and Concord, and the arguments are the same as 100 years before during the Puritan Revolution and 60 years since the Glorious Revolution--both of which occurred before Locke's Two Treatises were even published!

For all his criticism of Hall's use of "Christian," it is nowhere stated exactly what Gregg means by "Lockean," except by implication, non-Biblical. But this will not do: Even among the religious, the purpose of theology is to "tease out" what the Bible means, wants, permits, and bans.

And for the scholar with no sectarian dog in the fight, these are subjective judgments, injudiciable by scholars. It can only be said that John Calvin says x, but Theodore Beza and the rest say---well, even that's up for debate!!

Gregg already concedes [here, infra] that the prior Reformers "influenced" Locke, but it's time to get your Locke on, Gregg, and hit the source texts. Merely repeating the summaries and conclusions of the Straussians about what Locke said simply will not suffice.

For his thesis to get anywhere, Gregg must provide argument and evidence somewhere what was uniquely "Lockean," what was not part of the growing stream of what we are calling "Reformed Resistance Theory."

Gregg doesn't do it here at American Creation among his tens of thousands of words on this topic, and he doesn't do it in his book either. This is the lacuna in his thesis. He may be right about Locke and the Reformed preachers, but he hasn't begun to prove it.

*more or less

** subtitled "[W]ith some reflections on the resistance made to King Charles I. and on the anniversary of his death: in which the mysterious doctrine of the Princes' saintship and martyrdom is unriddled: the substance of which was delivered in a sermon preached in the West Meeting-House in Boston the Lord's-day after the 30th of January."  The occasion is relevant in that it initiates a religious argument having no relevance to John Locke or "Lockean" thought.

† I broached this in a previous response to Gregg, and it is even more crucial to the discussion now:

As I often ask about Locke, the "real" Locke [say of the "Straussians"] or the Locke the Founders fashioned out of his writings for their own purposes?...
Thus: Whose Luther? Whose Calvin?
Milton's Luther and Milton's Calvin were quite sufficient to their project and I expect most others were satisfied with them too. This is why I have found the "Straussian" scholars like Michael Zuckert fairly useless to the actual historian. What Luther and Calvin actually thought is a curiosity. How the Founders appropriated them is the historian's task at hand.

Re Locke, Gregg himself here invokes Tom Pangle and Michael Zuckert, who are prominent "Straussians"-- which is to say scholarly readers who believe that most philosophers were circumspect in their writings for fear of persecution--think Socrates and the hemlock, and indeed Algernon Sidney who was beheaded for his unpublished works, which is no doubt why John Locke published his famous Two Treatises anonymously!

I have no problem with Zuckert's interpretation of the "real" Locke buried underneath the exoteric one, but do not accept that the Founding-era readers took him that way. To the Straussians, Locke's fulsome praise of the "judicious" Rev. Richard Hooker is merely cover for his disagreement with him. But to the great mass of men--even perhaps the foremost intellectual among the Founders, James Wilson--that praise was taken at face value.

In any case, the Straussians are completely uninterested in theology--Calvin, Beza, Ponet. In fact. it appears that few have done more than leaf through Aquinas and the Schoolmen as undergraduates. They cannot be of any real help to Gregg's case, since they don't know John Calvin from Adam! They cannot tell us wherefrom in pre-Lockean Christian political theology Locke departed.

Gregg objects:
I find it interesting that despite Mark’s (and Mr. Van Dyke’s) repeated insistence that the proper identification is not “Calvinist,” but “Reformed/Reformers”, Mark uses the terms interchangeably – not just in these posts, but also in his book on Sherman (e.g. pgs. 26, 27, 29 etc.). It is interesting that Mr. Van Dyke doesn’t “call” Mark on it.
Previously asked and answered in a previous comments section. I wrote
The proper term is "Reformed," but when read without context, it means little on its face. [Just as Gregg Frazer's trademark "theistic rationalism" means little without Gregg there to explain what he means by it.]
When we say "Calvinist" the meaning is clear even if it's a bit inaccurate.
So yes, I do not object when Mark Hall uses the terms interchangeably. I have asked Gregg to show us the Founders citing Calvin directly. I take his silence to be agreement that they did not. He is technically correct here, but for historical purposes re the American Founding, Gregg is making a distinction without a difference. To the general reader, "Calvinist" is far more helpful. Indeed, "Reformer" is a more generic term that applies to numerous non-Calvinist figures such as Luther, Zwingli, Melanchthon, Tyndale, etc.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Frazer Replies to Hall's 5/21 Comment

Gregg Frazer sends along the follow note, reproduced below, that responds to Mark David Hall's post on 5/21/20.


The critical issue is not who was first to come up with ideas, but who the rebels were actually influenced by.  They cited Locke.  And Lockean “resistance theory” is not the same as “Reformed” resistance theory; the “patriot” preachers reflect Locke’s argument, not Beza’s.  As far as I can tell, not a single “patriot” preacher made the “lesser magistrate” argument. I have asked numerous adherents to Mark’s view to give some examples, but no one has done so.  Locke did not cite or credit Reformers; Locke did not hold to the fundamentals of Reformed theology.

If you read my post carefully, I said that “this part” of the “Reformed political tradition” did not begin or end with Calvin because he did not subscribe to it.  I made no comment about “the Reformed tradition” – unless you think resistance to authority is all there is to “the Reformed tradition.”  This – as Mark is fond of saying – does not change my argument at all, either.  I have never argued that there were no “Reformers” who justified rebellion; I have never argued that Calvin justified rebellion.  My argument concerning Calvin was and remains that he opposed rebellion and that he – not Beza or others – was most influential in those churches that were “Calvinist”; consequently they opposed rebellion until Mayhew gave the rebels a path around Calvin’s teaching that was exploited by those promulgating rebellion.  This is why Calvin matters.

In my article explaining why the American Revolution was not a “just war,” I do, in fact, make that same argument on pgs. 49-50 – that Calvin was most influential and he did not support rebellion.  It’s not a “move,” it’s a reasoned and supported argument.

I find it interesting that despite Mark’s (and Mr. Van Dyke’s) repeated insistence that the proper identification is not “Calvinist,” but “Reformed/Reformers”, Mark uses the terms interchangeably – not just in these posts, but also in his book on Sherman (e.g. pgs. 26, 27, 29 etc.).  It is interesting that Mr. Van Dyke doesn’t “call” Mark on it. 

But then, he didn’t “call” Mark on the fact that Mark revealed in these posts that in his book he meant “orthodox Christianity” when he referred to “Christianity” in the American Founding.  My work is to be dismissed because it is based on my narrow conservative theological beliefs – even though it isn’t based on that at all, but on the definition of Christianity held by the 18th-century American churches (which I document). I am to be criticized because today there are other views of what Christianity means and, for some reason, it is appropriate and necessary to anachronistically transport them back to the founding era.  But Mark is not criticized when he specifically says that he meant “orthodox” Reformed Christianity when he claimed that America had a “Christian” founding.  hmmmm

I am surprised that, in his desire to discredit my work, Mark questions the professionalism and research of a fine historian: John Fea.  It is also disingenuous to suggest that only those who’ve come under my bewitching spell question Mark’s view of Calvin, the Reformers, and whose influence on the Revolution was most important.  My power must be great indeed if I influenced those who wrote before me, such as Steven Dworetz and Michael Zuckert and Thomas Pangle and Quentin Skinner and Harry Jaffa and Alice Baldwin and Robert Kraynak and others.  I had no idea I was so powerful and influential!  And I thought they influenced me.  Thanks for the compliment, though, Mark.

As for that “unpublished doctoral dissertation” to be differentiated from primary sources: I notice that Mark quotes his share of secondary sources (his definition of deism comes entirely from secondary sources). This particular dissertation is not, of course, a primary source, but it cites hundreds of them. The fact that a doctoral dissertation is not published has not kept scholars from citing them for decades.  One of the measurements of a dissertation is how many times – and by who – it is cited.  That particular dissertation cited by Fea was eventually published.  It was published by the University Press of Kansas as part of their prestigious American Political Thought series.  It was peer reviewed by perhaps the foremost living expert on early American political thought, Thomas Pangle, and by a distinguished professor from Dartmouth.  It has since been affirmed by the editor of the premiere edition of The Federalist Papers, the professor who coined the term “deliberative democracy,” a renowned scholar of the American Founding at Claremont Graduate University, a preeminent Founding era scholar at Stanford, scholars at Notre Dame, Colgate, the University of Georgia, University of Missouri, Grove City College, and others that don’t immediately spring to mind. 

Apparently, Mark was not too dismissive of the work in that dissertation, as he edited two books that included chapters that were adaptations of chapters in that dissertation. It was good enough for Mark and Daniel Dreisbach (perhaps the most respected scholar on religion and the Founding), but not for citation by Fea? And when Mark set up a roundtable discussion of that work, none of the discussants Mark selected had any significant criticisms of it – so the entire discussion time centered on a minor, throwaway comment in the book.  Jon Rowe no doubt remembers that, as he was a member of the panel. Jon was the only one who had a criticism until I explained why Richard Price was not included.

Yes, Adams mentioned Ponet – but couldn’t even do that without also mentioning Locke. Ponet no doubt influenced some, but Adams’s quote does not indicate that Locke “dilated” on Ponet’s work, but on the same essential principles as did Ponet.  In the article to which Mark refers, I also mention Vindiciae, contra Tyrannos on the pages he mentions and suggest that it apparently influenced some.  My contention is that a few “Reformed” writers influenced some, but the primary influence in Calvinist churches was … Calvin.  And again, that is why Jonathan Mayhew’s pivotal sermon was so important and earth-shaking. If the New England Calvinists were already on board with rebellion, why the big deal about Mayhew and that seminal sermon?

Adams raved about Mayhew: “If the orators on the 4th of July really wish to investigate the principles and feelings which produced the Revolution, they ought to study … Dr. Mayhew’s sermon on passive obedience and non-resistance…” and Adams said it was “read by everybody.” [my italics]

As for Mark’s closing quote from Adams, it refers not to the political theory of the Reformers, but the Reformation itself which created Protestantism and subsequently produced the vast bulk of American colonists.  The “exertions” and “sufferings” of these guys were for separating from the Catholic Church – not rebellion against kings.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Frazer Responds to Hall's 5/20 Comment

Gregg Frazer has sent along the below note that responds to Mark David Hall's comment made on 5/20/20.


Who’s not reading carefully now?  I spent some time distinguishing between “obedience” and “subjection” and showing that Calvin made the same distinction. Now Mark suggests that I falsely insert “obey” in place of “subjection” into the biblical text.  As Mark insists on changing the text, I would appreciate it if he would not accuse me of doing so.

It seems more likely that Mark and Seidel went to the same school because both of them insist on substituting the word “obey” for “subjection.”  As applied to the American situation, Romans 13 says that English subjects – which the “patriots” claimed to be as late as after Bunker Hill – must be subject [hupotasso] to King George.  In Titus 3:1, Paul instructs believers to be obedient [peitharcheo] as well as subject.  Being in subjection is also a matter of conscience (Rom. 13:5) – is that not what the verse says?  I do not agree with Seidel on much, but he apparently knows how to read and assumes that an author means what he says.

Mark’s position is not one of exegesis, but of eisegesis.  His position reads 16th-century circumstances and preferences into the biblical text.  Mark complains about how I read the text of his book if he doesn’t think I do so accurately.   Doesn’t Paul deserve the same treatment – especially since Mark and I agree that he was inspired by the Holy Spirit?  Why can Paul’s text rightly be massaged and manipulated and its meaning changed by events 1500 years after it was written?  What about the many clear and direct passages from Calvin that Mark has not explained?  Why should we take Mark’s words literally and seriously, but not afford the same to Paul’s and Calvin’s words?

Mark thinks I unfairly treated his text, but he ascribes talk of armed rebellion to Calvin, who never used that language. He ascribes exceptions for “lesser magistrates” to Calvin, who never used those terms.  Mark says that I unfairly draw conclusions about his text because he states a counterclaim at one point.  But when Calvin many times explicitly condemns resistance to rulers and commands subjection and (with one exception) obedience to them, Mark ignores those statements in favor of his preferred conclusion drawn from other peoples’ comments on Calvin or by inserting words into Calvin’s text or substituting words that Calvin did not use.

Mark says “almost every Reformed writer … disagreed” with Seidel’s adaptation of Romans 13.  Since George did not require anyone to disobey God, Calvin did not disagree with Seidel’s statement.  Neither did Martin Luther.

Luther said:

“Here is what the law says, ‘No one shall fight or make war against his overlord; for a man owes his overlord obedience, honor, and fear’ (Romans 13 [1-7]).  … That is the law in a nutshell. God himself has instituted it and men have accepted it, for it is not possible both to obey and resist, to be subject and not put up with their lords.”

“subjects are to be obedient and are even to suffer wrong from their tyrants.  … (I)f the subjects rise up and rebel … then it is right and proper to fight against them. That, too, is what a prince should do to his nobles and an emperor to his princes if they are rebellious and start a war.”

As for “lesser magistrates”: “Compared to his overlord the emperor, a prince is not a prince, but an individual who owes obedience to the emperor, as do all others, each for himself.  ...  So the emperor, too, when compared with God, is not an emperor, but an individual person like all others; compared with his subjects, however, he is as many times emperor as he has people under him. The same can be said of all other rulers. When compared to their overlord, they are not rulers at all and are stripped of all authority. When compared with their subjects, they are adorned with all authority.”

Luther emphasizes the biblical principle that God may remove a ruler, but that role is not given to us: “Thus, in the end, all authority comes from God, whose alone it is; for he is emperor, prince, count, noble, judge, and all else, and he assigns these offices to his subjects as he wills, and takes them back again for himself” [emphasis mine].

Frazer Responds to Van Dyke

Gregg Frazer responds to Tom Van Dyke's comment on Frazer's recent post. The response is posted below.


My initial post was designed to help Mr. Hart; my second to respond to Mark’s comments.  Perhaps Mr. Hart and Mark see greater relevance in this discussion.

It is Mark who is claiming that “Reformed” political thought had a strong influence on the history of the Founding – not me.  As I see it, Reformed thought had very little relevance to the Founding (although a few who belonged to Reformed denominations did have great relevance).

I don’t think it matters whether anyone actively argued against Beza’s (and others’) view during the Revolutionary period.  It is enough that they did not buy into it.  As I see it, it is relevant because the Calvinist churches held to Calvin’s view and, thus, were hesitant/unwilling to support rebellion.  Evidence for that is the singular importance of Jonathan Mayhew and his sermon against “Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance” which has been called the “Morning Gun of the Revolution.” According to key witnesses at the time, Mayhew’s sermon was a turning point in getting pulpit support for the cause. 

  1. Why would that be if they already subscribed to the views of Beza et al.?
  2. Why did they cite Mayhew and Locke and not Beza – or Calvin, for that matter?  (other than a few scattered references to one or two Reformed guys)

Calvin’s view matters because it was a hurdle that the rebels had to get over in order to recruit from arguably their primary source: the New England pulpits.

Theology held by historical people in historical circumstances is part of history.  Often, theology drives history (as Mark is claiming is true of the American Revolution).  The Puritans came to America because of theology. Religious wars have been fought because of theology.  For many, the most important historical events of all time were theological and in fulfillment of theological prophecy.

Mark claims that there are “good reasons to believe” that Calvin “embraced the view that private persons can actively resist tyrannical governments.”  The passages I cited from Calvin say exactly the opposite and Mark has not offered any that say what Mark claims.  I don’t think there are any.  Calvin says one must “disobey” tyrannical rulers when they require one to do evil, but that is a far cry from taking up arms in rebellion.  Disobedience is not active resistance in the sense that Mark must mean the term in order to use it in support of rebellion.  Note that in the quotation from Calvin’s commentary on Daniel, Calvin says not to “obey”; Mark converts instruction to not “obey” into “justly overthrown.”

He further claims that Calvin sanctioned and encouraged “resistance by lesser magistrates” and that there is “little doubt” that “Calvin taught that inferior magistrates may justly and biblically offer active resistance to tyrants.”  But Calvin never refers to “lesser” or “inferior” magistrates in this context – not once.  This notion comes from commentators on Calvin – mostly in the last 40 years – not from Calvin himself.  Furthermore, Calvin never calls for taking up arms to overthrow a ruler (which must be what Mark means by “active resistance”). 

And again, he says that there is “good reason” to believe that Calvin “reached the conclusion that private citizens may as well” – but there are no passages from Calvin that say that, either – quite the contrary, as I’ve posted.  To say that God’s people must “resist evil” is a truism.  Believers in God must not give in to sin (e.g. Gen. 39:7, 9, 12; Psa. 119:11; James 4:7).  It is not to say take up arms against a tyrannical government. The context itself shows that, as Calvin applies it to public prosecutors and princes.  He’s not calling on princes to resist evil by ruling justly instead of to satisfy their own desires?  He’s calling on them to overthrow themselves?  He’s not calling on prosecutors to resist evil in the sense of prosecuting crimes, but to overthrow the government? On what basis should we draw that conclusion?  Of course all are supposed to pursue justice and righteousness, but that does not justify any/all means. 

The only times in which Calvin “embraces” violent overthrow of a tyrant are the times he stipulates that God Himself raises up avengers with a “special vocation” from God.  That is God removing a ruler – not men.  It certainly has no reference or relevance to private citizens/”the people” or individuals deciding on their own that rebellion is appropriate.

I am curious: what is Mark’s interpretation of the passages I quoted in my initial post on this subject?  Why do they not mean what they clearly say?

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Hall Responds to Frazer on the Calvinist Resisters

Mark David Hall sent along the following note reproduced below which responds to Gregg Frazer's latest post on the Calvinist resisters.


I continue to think Gregg is wrong in his interpretation of Calvin's view of active resistance (which is not a "codeword"; it is a term of art), but even if he convinced me it would make no difference to my argument which is that within the Reformed tradition of political reflection a very robust understanding of active resistance developed and was shared by virtually every Reformed thinker to address the issue.  These Calvinists were convinced that they were exegetting the Bible properly.  And many Reformed thinkers made these arguments well before Locke wrote his Second Treatise.  Sarah Morgan Smith and I discuss Calvin and other pre-Locke Calvinist writers in the following article.  Because it is available online at no cost, I am not going to reconstruct it here:

Whose Rebellion? Reformed Resistance Theory in America, part 1.” Co-authored with Sarah A. Morgan Smith.  Invited article for Unio cum Christo. 3 (October 2017): 169-184. 

I am thrilled beyond belief that Gregg concedes that the Reformed tradition does not begin and end with John Calvin.  I trust this will lead him to revise his writings where he acts as if it does.  So, for instance, in The Religious Beliefs of America’s Foundershe spends roughly two pages discussing Calvin and then concludes "One cannot legitimately employ Calvin to justify rebellion, which is why the patriotic preachers argued in terms of 'Mr. Locke's doctrine' rather than Calvin's."  (82-83)  Having read this, one might be excused for thinking that no Calvinist wrote or spoke on the subject between Calvin and Locke.  He makes a similar move in his article explaining why the War for Independence was not a just war (pp. 49-50).  

Alas, such analysis has been accepted by historians who get their political theory from unpublished doctoral dissertations rather than primary sources.  So, for instance, John Fea writes "John Calvin, the Genevan Reformer who had the most influence on the theology of the colonial clergy, taught that rebellion against civil government was never justified . . . as "political scientist Gregg Frazer has argued" [it was Locke not Calvin who influenced the patriotic preachers]. (Was America Founded as a Christian Nation, 1st, 118-119).  

In 1787, John Adams wrote that John Ponet’s Short Treatise on Politike Power (1556) contains “all the essential principles of liberty, which were afterwards dilated on by Sidney and Locke.”  He also noted the significance of Stephanus Junius Brutus’ Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos.  Later in life, Adams wrote: “I love and revere the memories of Huss, Wickliff, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Melancton, and all the other Reformers, how muchsoever I may differ from them all in many theological metaphysical & philosophical points.  As you justly observe, without their great exertions & severe sufferings, the USA had never existed.”

For additional discussion, see:

Whose Rebellion? Reformed Resistance Theory in America, part 2.” Co-authored with Sarah A. Morgan Smith.  Invited article for Unio cum Christo. 4 (April 2018): 171-188.


Mark David Hall, Roger Sherman and the Creation of the American Republic (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Frazer Replies on the Calvinist Resisters

Gregg Frazer sends along the below note that pertains to this post and its ensuing discussion in the comments on the followers of John Calvin who promoted "resistance" to unjust governments.


By submitting some of what Calvin said, I was not saying – or even suggesting – that Calvin is the only or final word on Reformed theology.  I just thought it logical and helpful in response to a post entitled “The Problem with Calvinist Resistance Theory: John Calvin Himself” to hear from John Calvin himself.  No?   I would be the last person to recognize any pope.

Furthermore, as Mr. Van Dyke notes, “the American Revolution was largely led by ‘Calvinists’”; therefore, in a blog about American Creation, Calvinist thought seems to be more to the point than that of others.

Re Calvin’s 1560 sermon on Melchizedek that Mark references: Calvin’s suggestion that Abraham saved his people via a “special vocation” from God was not a “more radical” approach to this question.  Mark did not mention that in the sermon, Calvin maintains that “it is absolutely forbidden to any private individual to take up arms” because this would “despoil God of his honor and right.”  He goes on to say that “private individuals must absolutely abstain from all violence” and therefore must “have the courage to suffer when it pleases God to cast them down.”

It is also not a new approach for Calvin.  In the Institutes (24 years earlier), Calvin recognizes that God “sometimes raises up avengers from amongst his servants, designated and commanded by Him to punish the tyranny of vicious men and to deliver the oppressed from their wretched calamities; at other times He turns the frenzy of men who intended something quite different to the same end” [this latter part being what he sometimes calls God’s use of “the instrumentality of the wicked” – i.e. God taking men’s evil actions/desires and using them to fulfill His plan (e.g. Genesis 50:20 and, for that matter, the crucifixion of Christ)].

Lest someone get the wrong idea that he’s advocating people deciding on their own to rebel, Calvin explains:

“[These avengers} were summoned to punish these crimes by a lawful calling from God; they did not in the least violate the majesty with which kings are endowed by divine ordinance when they took up arms against kings.

"Armed by heaven, they subjugated a lesser power by a greater, in just the same way that kings are entitled to punish their own officials.  The latter [frenzied men who rebelled on their own], by contrast, did God’s work without knowing it, for all that they intended to do was commit crimes [emphasis mine].  All the same, it was the hand of God that directed them do His bidding.”  [Institutes, Book 4, chap. 20, section 30]

He follows that immediately with: “it was the Lord who by these instruments carried out His just purpose.  …  As for us, however, let us take the greatest possible care never to hold in contempt, or trespass upon, that plenitude of authority of magistrates … even when it is exercised by individuals who are wholly unworthy of it and who do their best to defile it by their wickedness.”  That is immediately followed by the quote under #31 in my previous comment which explains that punishment of tyrants is God’s work – not ours.  That explains the Abraham example and many others – God removes tyrants, sometimes using human efforts, sometimes not.  Sometimes He uses special deliverers that He appoints, sometimes he simply uses the evil efforts of men/the people.  None of that justifies or supports self-determined action by individuals or bodies of people.

He concludes with: “we are not to imagine that it is we ourselves who have been called upon to inflict it. All that has been assigned to us is to obey and suffer.”  Calvin’s conclusion about suffering in the Melchizedek sermon and his conclusion about suffering here points to an important difference between what Calvin and Calvinists say and emphasize.   Many of the Calvinists have lost the biblical notion of suffering, which is an important part of apostolic – and Calvin’s – teaching.

Because of an unwillingness to recognize that we might have to suffer in order to be obedient to God, some take Calvin’s instruction that we might have to disobey as instruction to rebel.  In the book of Daniel, for example, Calvin comments on two circumstances in which believers had to disobey the king in order to be obedient to God.  Mark’s quote from Calvin’s Daniel commentary is in the context of Dan. 6:22 in which Daniel tells the king that God honored him and protected him from the lions in the lions den because Daniel had “committed no crime” against the king [Calvin puts that in italics to emphasize it].  Calvin says: “It is clear that the Prophet had violated the king’s edict. Why, then, does he not ingenuously confess this? Nay, why does he contend that he has not transgressed against the king? Because he conducted himself with fidelity in all his duties, he could free himself from every calumny … as if he had despised the king’s sovereignty.”  Calvin is noting that Daniel did not challenge the king’s authority, just one command.  He proved it through his subjection to punishment. Calvin also notes that Daniel prayed for the king’s welfare from the den!  He did not seek to remove himself from subjection to the king – quite the contrary.

Daniel had to obey God rather than the king – i.e. he had to disobey the king’s specific command that required him to disobey God – but he did not go the step further of refusing submission to the king by rebelling against his authority.  Daniel did not challenge the authority of the king; he challenged the legitimacy of a specific command of the king that would “spoil God of His rights” and was intended to place Darius above God.  Daniel disobeyed a specific command, but neither organized rebellion nor countenanced it – and neither did Calvin.  Daniel remained subject to Darius by taking the punishment; he did not deny that Darius had the right to punish him. When Calvin speaks of resisting, it is resisting edicts and commands – not rulers.

In Mark’s quote from the Daniel commentary, Calvin is advocating disobedience (in the “one exception to that obedience which … is due to the commands of rulers” [Institutes, Book 4, chap. 20, section 32]) but not rebellion. For Calvin, this is the one exception to the rule of obedience – there is no proper “broader reading” if he recognizes only one exception.  Those rulers who “rise up against God” are removed by God – not the people – in Calvin’s economy.

Likewise with Shadrach, Meschach, and Abed-nego in chapter 3 of the book of Daniel.  They had to disobey Nebuchadnezzar because he demanded false worship from them, but they did not organize or support rebellion.  They remained in subjection to Nebuchadnezzar by taking the punishment and going into the fiery furnace.  In each case – the lions den and the fiery furnace – God honored their obedience to Him and their subjection to Nebuchadnezzar (which, by the way, God Himself had specifically commanded the exiles to do in Jeremiah 27: 1-12).

The end result in each case – as well as other cases in the Bible of required disobedience, but continued subjection – was that God was glorified (Dan. 3:29; 4:1-3; & 6:25-27) and those who put themselves in a position of suffering in order to obey God, but remained subject to earthly authority, were blessed: (Dan. 3:30 & 6:28).   Is it likely that God would have been glorified by these kings if God’s people had launched a rebellion?  Calvin actually makes this very point, saying that Daniel understood that this “arose from God’s wishing to testify by a certain and clear proof his approval of that worship for which Daniel had contended even to death” and in the case of the three young men, “thus the greatness of His [God’s] power is acknowledged.” He emphasizes that Nebuchadnezzar learned from this experience that it was not his place to claim authority to be worshiped.

If there was a rebellion, the only lessons learned by these kings – and by those who’ve read the book of Daniel for centuries – would be about power politics.  It might as well have been written by Machiavelli.

Calvin also emphasizes that the three men did not leave the furnace until the king commanded them to do so “because God had issued no command.”  Calvin stresses that they waited for the king to command them; that is because they remained subject to him despite all that had happened and there was no command from God one way or the other that might supersede the king’s command.

In Calvin’s discussion of chapter 4 of the book of Daniel, he says the following concerning Daniel and Belteshazzar:

“he wished so horrible a punishment to be turned away from the person of the king; for although he might deservedly have detested him, yet he reverenced the power divinely assigned to him. Let us learn, therefore, from the Prophet’s example, to pray for blessings on our enemies who desire to destroy us, and especially for tyrants if it please God to subject us to their lust; for although they are unworthy of any of the feelings of humanity, yet we must modestly bear their yoke, because they could not be our governors without God’s permission; and not only for wrath, as Paul admonishes us, but for conscience’ sake (Rom. xiii.5), otherwise we should not only rebel against them, but against God Himself.”

Mark is right that Calvin did not embrace “passive obedience” in a universal sense (because he recognized one exception), but wrong on the other half of the phrase: Calvin did embrace “unconditional submission,” as did Paul (Rom. 13:1-2), Peter (I Peter 2:13-14, 20-23), and Jesus (John 19:11).  “Subjection/submission” [hupotasso] and “obedience” [peitharcheo] are different words both in Greek and in English.

As for Mark’s claim that Calvin sanctioned and encouraged “resistance by lesser magistrates” and “active resistance to tyrants,” I would very much like to see the evidence for that – maybe just a few citations.  I have not found any such evidence in my study, but more importantly, Cambridge scholar Quentin Skinner says that “Calvin never alludes to the concept of inferior magistrates in this (Book 4, chap. 20) or any other discussion about political resistance ….”

Rather, Calvin speaks of “popular magistrates” [populares magistratus] – a particular type of inferior magistrate that is appointed for the specific purpose of “moderating the power of kings” on behalf of the people.  They are established with constitutional/system power to restrain kings from within the system of government.  There is no indication of any use of force or rebellion or anything outside of the workings of the system. So that he would not be misunderstood, Calvin gave three carefully chosen examples: the ephors of the Spartans, the tribunes of Rome, and the demarchs of the Athenians. Each of these bears out this description.

Calvin says “It may be” that such magistrates are established in a regime and “if” such magistrates are so established, they should act according to “their duty” for which they have taken an “oath.”  There are lesser/inferior magistrates in every regime, but there are not always (or even often) magistrates such as this who are established within the system to restrain the monarch.  And there is no talk of violent overthrow or rebellion or anything beyond “duty” for which such officers have sworn an “oath.”  The historical examples that he provides illustrate this point, but are too often ignored.

If this refers to all inferior/lesser magistrates, why does Calvin preface his remarks with conditional terms such as “it may be” and “if”?  And why doesn’t he call them simply “inferior” or “lesser” magistrates?  Why the specific terms if he means any/all?

I agree with Mark’s implied explanation that this strain of political thought emerged because of certain people’s experience with suffering and death at the hands of tyrants – as opposed to having a biblical basis and being biblical truth that would make personal experience irrelevant (as per the thousands of martyrs in the early church and throughout church history to the present day – including the apostles and Jesus).  John Knox is at least honest enough to admit that he changed his view of the subject because of the suffering of his friends.

In one sense, I agree with Mark’s Clintonesque “what difference does it make now?” paragraph.  The latter part of the claim is clearly true.  And clearly, this part of the Reformed tradition did not begin and end with John Calvin, as he did not subscribe to it; so we agree on that.  It did not begin or end with him.

Here’s the rub: to say that there was a Reformed tradition – in some circles – that justified “active resistance” (your polite codeword for “rebellion”) is demonstrably true.  As per Mark’s request, I’ll say: they were wrong.

To say that it was that tradition instead of what the participants actually cited and claimed that inspired/motivated the bulk of those who engaged in the American Revolution is highly debatable.  Also highly debatable, as I’ve attempted to show here, is the notion that Calvin is responsible for this anti-biblical notion.  Someone needs to defend Calvin’s honor.  If I’ve done an inadequate job here, I apologize to Calvin.


Friday, May 8, 2020

Wagner's "Unconfirmed" George Washington Quotation

That image is of one Dr. Bo Wagner who is a pastor in a Protestant evangelical-fundamentalist church. Normally I don't post pics with my posts, but I decided to post his because I find his style to be neato (seriously, that's a sharp looking man). But anyway, back in 2013, he wrote an article entitled "George Washington’s view of God."

Let me start off with a conclusion: According to the theology of Pastor Wagner's Church on what it means to be a "Christian," George Washington probably wouldn't make the cut. Books have been written on why this is so. But in brief, while Washington constantly talked about God or "Providence" in his recorded public and private words, he rarely talked about Jesus. In fact the words "Jesus Christ" are recorded only once, in a public address to Indians and one other time by example, but not named in the 1783 Circular to the States. Both of these were written by aides, but given under Washington's imprimatur.

In Washington's recorded, private words, to deafening silence, Jesus Christ is never mentioned. And as Brad Hart has pointed out, even though Washington prayed often and used a variety of terms for God, not once was Washington recorded praying in Jesus' name.

But that's not the impression Dr. Wagner's article leaves. Quote:
... The very father of our country was not afraid to recognize and speak of Jesus Christ. Here are the first and last lines of a prayer that he wrote, and had framed so that America would never forget: “Almighty God, we make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy Holy protection... Grant our supplication, we beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”
The problem with Dr. Wagner's claim is that George Washington didn't say it. The quotation actually originated sometime in the 19th century, long after Washington had passed. For detailed information on how this came to be, Snopes has the 411; see also Michael Meyerson; and Chris Rodda.

Though the context of Dr. Wagner's claim is interesting. Given Washington didn't say these words, would we then conclude that he was "afraid to recognize and speak of Jesus Christ"? I don't draw that conclusion because one of Washington's virtues was courage; he didn't seem to "fear" much if anything. Rather I conclude Washington simply didn't share Dr. Wagner's faith.

Washington was no strict deist or atheist. The appropriate term to categorize his creed is debatable. But he was not Dr. Wagner's kind of Christian.