Wednesday, May 20, 2009

King of Ireland, Frazer, Fatalism & Romans 13

King of Ireland alerted me to his response to Gregg Frazer on Romans 13. It invokes a number of reductios to try to rebut Frazer's notion that the Bible categorically forbids revolt period.

The main reductio that I've seen from not just the King, but many others is "what about Hitler and Stalin"? But fundamentalist/Sola-Scriptura Christianity is supposed to be immune from such reductios. That is, the question is NOT, "oh how horrible it would be if Christians had to submit to Nazi and Communist tyranny" but rather, "what does the Bible actually teach on the subject?"

And Frazer, following John MacArthur makes a convincing case that the Bible actually and literally teaches revolt against government is always wrong, period. Here is what MacArthur wrote about Christians' biblical duty to submit to even communist tyranny:

A Testimony from the Soviet Union

I will never forget a conversation I had with Georgi Vins. He is a Christian who lived for many years in the Soviet Union. He met with our staff one day and we asked him what it was like to live under tyranny and repression in a communist country. He told us that Christians can’t pursue an education or a career. They have no say in the government and no freedoms to speak of. This question was then posed to him: How do you respond to that kind of government? He said, “We obey every law in our nation, whether it appears to us to be just or unjust, except when we are told that we cannot worship God or obey the Scripture. But if we are persecuted, put into prison, or killed, it will be a result of our faith in Jesus Christ, not because we violated some law in our nation.”

In Romans 13:1-7, Paul is saying the same thing Peter did: We have a serious responsibility to live out our justification by faith. Our self- sacrifice to the Lord (Rom. 12:1-2) should make us model citizens of our nation. We should not be known as protesters–as those who criticize and demean people in authority. We should speak against sin, injustice, evil, and immorality fearlessly and without hesitation. But we should give honor to those who are in authority over us. That is the biblical pattern for every age, every nation, and every Christian–it has nothing to do with America alone.

A response might be this is fatalistic -- well yes it is fatalistic. So is the fundamentalist teaching on Hell. But again, we are in the realm of "reductios" to which fundamentalism is supposed to be immune. If the Bible teaches the vast majority of human beings -- including many of your loved ones and folks from history you admire -- are eternally damned, that's what it teaches period. Or, if the Bible teaches submit to all governments, including tyrants, that's what it teaches, period. One thing I admire about Drs. Frazer and MacArthur is their willingness to stick to their guns and follow their Sola-Scriptura premises all the way through, even when it leaves a bad taste in folks' mouths.

Though I would note, it's possible to have differing interpretations on Romans 13; Frazer's and MacArthur's, from my perspective, are closest to the "literal" interpretation of the Bible's text. Most theology that has argued for the right to revolt against tyrants "found" that right with a natural law supplement or somewhat "looser" or metaphorical interpretation of the Bible's text.

This (natural law discovered from reason, and loose/metaphorical interpretation of the Bible's text), and NOT Sola-Scriptura fundamentalism was, without question the political-theology that America's Founders and the patriotic ministers used to justify rebellion against tyrants. It was not "the Bible alone" that told men they have a right to rebel against tyrants because the Bible teaches no such thing. Figures like the unitarian Jonathan Mayhew had to look elsewhere to first find the right and then go back and attempt reconcile the Bible's text with the right to revolt against tyrants.

If only the evangelicals and fundamentalists who comprise Christian Nationalist forces understood this.


Phil Johnson said...

This is the precise area in which Americans are faced with the dilemma regarding the question of how we should deal with religiosity in our society.

It surfaces here in ugly interactions with each other over demands put on us to deal with their deeply held beliefs that they have some mission to fulfill by carrying out the will of their "Heavenly Father". Tomorrow, it might be the imposition of Sharia on our society to do the will of Allah.

I firmly believe that all religionists have every right to work toward obtaining their goals and objectives in our society. But, by the same token, I believe that non-religionists have exactly the same rights.

Therefore, it should be agreed by all that no person holds a sanctimonious position that the other cannot attack and expose.

The nature of the things that Van Dyke is attempting to do with his acrid commentaries helps establish the Religious Right as too holy for any negative treatment.

And, that is plain un-American b.s.!

Tom Van Dyke said...

I firmly believe that all religionists have every right to work toward obtaining their goals and objectives in our society. But, by the same token, I believe that non-religionists have exactly the same rights.On this, we agree, Phil, although I was suggest "values" instead of "objectives." Now kindly leave me out of this and stick to the issues.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jon, I'm not quite following who your opponents are. As near as I can suss out, you seem to be saying that if one holds that the American revolution was righteous, it's incompatible with being a sola scriptura-ist.

I love when you set sectors of Christianity against each other, without holding either viewpoint yourself. Still this seems to be a purely theological argument, and I question whether it's any more appropriate for this [secular] blog than say, challenging Mormonism on inherent but purely theological contradictions.

That said, I see I had a brilliant rejoinder when you posted this subject on one of your other blogs years ago:

"What literalist responses to Romans 13 miss is this:

For whatever reason, liberal democracy has come into being since New Testament/Roman Empire times: we are now all citizen/rulers.

Every man is required to be just, and on his best days, even to be merciful.

Romans 13 carries some theological complications, like if you were a citizen of Vichy France and were required to hand over the Jews [and, ostensibly, not to help the Resistance], but this complication has never been relevant to America.

Upon further review, America of course did have this problem: the abolitionists [and many of them Christians] helping the Underground Railroad, disobeying the Fugitive Slave Act.

This brings in my previous objection to something Pinky wrote elsewhere---Christians certainly do answer to a higher power than the US constitution, like it or not.

As for the propriety of the revolution itself, perhaps we need to return to Mayhew's sermon for the theological particulars.

Jason Pappas said...

I remember reading that Romans XIII has been cited through out the two millennia of Christianity to justify monarchy and submission to kings, emperors, and tyrants. Is this true? I’m more interested in a historical answer than a theological analysis. Has it played an important role underwriting autocratic rule?

I have a second question: did the Loyalists cite Romans XIII to oppose the Patriots during the Revolutionary War? I’m suspect this must be in the blog’s archive; but I thought I’d ask if anyone has a pointer to info on this matter.

King of Ireland said...


I am a History Teacher but far short of a scholar on the History aspect of this. But I think even a casual reading of general European History would show that this was used as justification for Divine Right of kings.

That was actually a large part of my response to Frazer that Jon linked above. This line of thinking had a huge impact on the Calvin and Luther and in my opinion this had led to many of the more Literal interpretations of Romans 13 today.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Jason the answer to both questions is yes. And if you go thru our archives you see we have documented it in detail.

Jonathan Rowe said...

if one holds that the American revolution was righteous, it's incompatible with being a sola scriptura-ist.Not exactly what I am trying to argue because there are sola scriptura-ist who believe the American Revolution was righteous.

That I think they make terrible theological arguments when they claim the Bible is the source of the DOI. Clearly we need some natural law and "theology" to "supplement" the Bible to get a Christian case for the DOI.

My main point is Sola Scriptura is not the source of the Declaration of Independence.

It's just an irony that I can't get over. I see men like Rev. Blair's -- evangelicals/fundamentalists/Sola Scriptura-ists -- pushing the hardest for the Christian Nation thesis. When, in reality, if one honestly holds to those premises, one should view things like Drs. Frazer and MacArthur.

Barton's barking up the wrong tree. He should be taking his case to the Mormons, Christians who use natural law theology to supplement the Bible, and Christians who might not believe in Sola-Scriptura or the Bible as infallible. That's the more honest "Christian Nation" thesis.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I think Barton takes his case to anyone who will pay him to speak. A man's gotta feed his family, especially a "historian" whose only credentials are a B.A. in religious education from Oral Roberts University.

Harvard and Notre Dame are not going to come calling for Mr. Barton.

But Michael Medved [a Jewish conservative radio talker] had him on. Dennis Prager, too, another Judeo-con. [Did I just invent a term?] Barton doesn't upset them, and I don't think they're mere quislings.

Barton taking Rev. Blair's money is no more an endorsement than Barack Obama giving Jeremiah Wright his. But I think that one has been argued and stipulated, nolo contendere.

men like Rev. Blair's -- evangelicals/fundamentalists/Sola Scriptura-ists..

I don't know what they believe, Jon. I don't care. The problem and phenomenon is that even sola scriptura-ists disagree about what the Bible plainly [haha!] says. John Calvin wasn't a Lutheran!

But, still, Jon, you love to stir up trouble between the sects. And I wasn't being sarcastic when I said I love when you do it. But your method is purely via theology, your purpose devilish.


Jonathan Rowe said...


Ha! See my email with the Madison quote.