Saturday, December 20, 2008

Chris Smith on Romans 13

Christopher Smith makes an apt comment responding to my discussion of Romans 13 with Herb Titus and Jim Babka:

On the Romans 13 issue, I don’t think it’s a matter of Christianity vs. Americanism as much as of Anglicanism vs. Dissent– i.e. two very different understandings of Christianity. In other words, belief in the right to revolution can spring from the very heart of one’s Christian faith without exhausting all possible interpretations of Christianity. This is part of the problem with historic Christian diversity; the different sects do not agree on what the faith is, what it teaches, or what is at its core. What is at the core of one Christian’s faith may be totally inconceivable from the perspective of another.

I’d like to quote briefly from Timothy T. Larsen’s book Contested Christianity: The Political and Social Contexts of Victorian Theology, you might want to have a look at chapter 10, titled “Free Church Politics and the Gathered Church: The Evangelical Case for Religious Pluralism.” Larsen is working with a slightly later context– the nineteenth rather than eighteenth century– but much of what he says applies to earlier Dissent as well. Larsen writes,

“It is not enough merely to discuss their [i.e. evangelical Nonconformists'] reforming efforts in terms of political tactics, because the mentalist and rhetoric of evangelical Dissenters was profoundly religious. The reform movement that came clearly to the surface in the 1830’s in Nonconformist circles was a public manifestation of biblical, theological, and religious lines of thought that were deeply ingrained in the Dissenting community. In this subculture, one was more apt to discuss the nature of the church than the role of the state; more apt to be moved by what appeared to be righteous than what was perceived to be expedient; just as apt to discuss the rights of Christ as the rights of man.”

The so-called “voluntary principle” was central not only to evangelicals, but also to Anabaptists, Unitarians, and a variety of other marginalized Christian movements. Priestley saw his defense of free inquiry as deeply Christian and, more than that, deeply Protestant, and his vision of Unitarian revolution sweeping Europe and overthrowing the state churches was based on an apocalyptic, post-millennial interpretation of the book of Revelation!

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