Published on November 9th, 2011 | by Bojidar Marinov26
The Moral Relativism of the Two Kingdoms Theology
I am often asked what my opinion is of the threat of socialism and communism to the United States, and whether I see a trend to socialism in this country. My reply usually surprises people: I always answer that there are attempts at producing socialism and even some successes, especially when it comes to the Federal government and the states’ governments. But I do not see a trend. Socialism and communism are self-destructing; they can not produce anything of their own, and they need capitalism to survive. That’s how the Soviet Union survived: using imported American grain and stolen American technologies. That’s how socialist Canada survives better than its European socialist counterparts: it is so much closer to the American economy which still keeps much of its original capitalism. Socialism can’t survive in America even if it completely overtakes the country: It won’t have another nation’s money to live on.
Then, when asked what I see as the main danger for America today, my reply startles people even more. I believe that the main danger for America are our own Christian celebrities, popular preachers, seminary professors, pastors of big congregations; in short, figures of authority in the Christian world who, by the virtue of their ability to use words and convey ideas, are considered above any reproach and above any criticism. I have witnessed this phenomenon over and over again, when Christians fall in love with a preacher only because he is able to convey old trivial truths in a new and entertaining, or shocking, or literary beautiful way. It is from the mouths and the pens of those Christian celebrities that the main danger flows; they are those who teach us and our children in the way of moral relativism. Many of them use one or two doctrines in a conservative and orthodox way – for example, the doctrine of God’s grace in salvation – only to capture the minds of their Christian listeners, and then, once those minds are captured, give them doctrines and worldview in other areas of life that are morally relativistic, compromising, and entirely foreign to the Biblical message. Socialists in this country are wolves in wolves’ clothing, or may be in watchdog’s clothing – so they are easily recognizable. But when a Christian preacher dons the sheep’s clothing of the doctrines of grace, most sheep follow such a person even when the core of his doctrine is the wolfish doctrines of moral relativism and socialism.
And when someone exposes the true nature of such celebrity’s doctrines, he is maligned as “unloving,” “divisive,” etc. I have experienced this attitude first-hand. But being a slow learner, I continue to expose them.
A couple of weeks ago I had another opportunity to witness the confused – or deliberately confusing – nature of the doctrines of the Two Kingdoms, coming from the pen of Albert Mohler, the president of the largest Baptist seminary in the US, and arguably the largest seminary in the world. Mohler is a well known proponent of the Two Kingdoms theology, and I have written about his theology in previous articles. (See here, here, and here.) These days, with the much ado about the race for Republican nominee and the presence of the Mormon Mitt Romney in that race, Al Mohler wrote an article which expounds his view on the issue of “Mormonism, Democracy, and the Urgent Need for Evangelical Thinking.” In it, Al Mohler calls the evangelicals to their “responsibility as evangelical Christians is to think seriously and biblically about these issues.” Unfortunately, his article is another example of the thinking of the Two Kingdoms theology, which is neither serious nor biblical.
The first half of the article uses very definitive and strong language to explain why Mormonism is not Christianity and can not be considered Christianity by any stretch of our imagination or of the doctrines of orthodoxy. Mohler is not very original there, others before him have expounded on this issue; but the succinctness of his exposé deserves admiration. Within several paragraphs he gives enough reasons why a Christian can not and should not even begin to think of the Mormon religion as Christianity. In conclusion, Mohler states:
It is neither slander nor condescension to state clearly that Mormonism is not Christianity.
Such conclusion is very necessary, especially in our modern world where many evangelicals often allow to be led astray by false teachings.
Once he is done with Mormonism, Mohler moves to the issue of the Christian’s social and political responsibility. Or at least, that’s what he says.
But the second half of his article contains no advice whatsoever as to what Christians should do when they vote for a political candidate. Mohler is completely unclear as to what the Christian’s social and political responsibility is.
He first transfers the responsibility for the importance of the religious identity of the political candidates to historical developments, not to any clear moral or Biblical principle:
It can be argued that our contemporary political context puts greater emphasis on the religious identity of candidates at all levels than has ever been experienced in American history.
Notice the impersonal passive voice: “It can be argued.” It is a specialized literary device of modern educators, as Richard Mitchell explains in his book, The Graves of Academe. Its specific purpose is to avoid responsibility for direct, positive statements. “It can be argued” but it doesn’t have to be true. Or “it can be argued” the other way too. And if someone disagrees with the statement, then Mohler is safe; he just said that it can be argued, not that it is true.
And then, even if we take the direct statement for what it’s worth, it is our “contemporary political context” that forces us to look at the religious identity of the candidates. Not the Bible. Not any absolute ethical or spiritual principles. It is the context, the circumstances, that have created such an emphasis. Otherwise, normally, we wouldn’t have to worry about the religious commitment of our politicians. From the very beginning of his analysis, Mohler makes the issue a temporary issue, an issue that is dependent on the situation, on the historical context. He doesn’t mention any Biblical principle to base his article upon; “it can be argued” that we have to make such decisions only because the historical situation forces us to do so.
Consequently, the discussion in the article deviates from the specific issue of what a Christian’s social and political responsibility should be to what is permissible for a Christian to do:
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Evangelicals stating a desire to vote for candidates for public office who most closely identify with our own beliefs and worldview.
Notice again the careful avoidance of clear statements: “stating a desire to vote.” Not “voting.” Even better, in the very next sentence Mohler calls such “stating a desire to vote” an intuition. And that intuition is “understandable and right.” Mohler doesn’t give his readers knowledge or understanding from the Bible; he only comments on their “intuition” to “state a desire to vote” for certain candidates and sees no problem with it.
That is, the discussion now is not on what we must do as Christians but on whether our intuition is right or wrong.
Then he introduces another factor in the analysis, one that is his favorite when Mohler discusses politics: “competency.” He has talked about this before, and I have discussed it in a previous article, pointing to the fact that the reasons for the political incompetence of Christians can be traced no farther back than the lack of sound teaching on political issues from the pulpits, and that can be traced no farther back than the lack of teaching on Biblical principles of civil government and politics in the Christian seminaries who train the pastors. I mean Christian seminaries like the one whose president is Al Mohler.
Mohler ignores the obvious fact that he himself bears responsibility for the political incompetence of so many Christians, and he says that “competence for public office is also an important Christian concern, as is made clear in Romans 13.” Romans 13 doesn’t mention such a requirement. The only requirement is that the ruler is a servant of God, that is, punish the wicked and commend the righteous. Which means he must know the Law of God – where only the standard for righteousness and wickedness is given – and apply it in his judgments. There is no such thing as “competence” separated from obedience to the Law of God or separated from faith in God. Mohler tries to support his statement with an apocryphal quote from Luther: that “that he would rather be ruled by a competent Turk (Muslim) than an incompetent Christian.” Luther never said such a thing, and Mohler knows Luther never said such a thing but he still uses it to justify his claims that “it well summarizes an important Christian wisdom.” Al Mohler claims to be Reformed, that is Calvinist, but for some reason he avoids mentioning John Calvin’s view on the duty of magistrates from chapter 20 of Book 4 of his Institutes:
That [the duty of magistrates] extends to both tables of the law, did Scripture not teach, we might learn from profane writers; for no man has discoursed of the duty of magistrates, the enacting of laws, and the common weal, without beginning with religion and divine worship.
And then again:
Hence in Scripture holy kings are especially praised for restoring the worship of God when corrupted or overthrown, or for taking care that religion flourished under them in purity and safety.
There is no such thing as requirement for an abstract “competence” for civil magistrates in the Reformed theology; a magistrate is under the obligation to preserve the national obedience to both tables of the Law and to make sure the Christian religion flourishes under him. It is obviously not separated from his faith in the God of the Bible. How would a “competent Turk” qualify for being a Biblical civil magistrate? Mohler doesn’t say.
Then he goes to what the current experiences of Christians in other lands are, for example Turkey. They must choose between Muslim candidates. Again, Mohler avoids the responsibility of telling his readers what their responsibility is when they vote.
Predictably, the article concludes with an open declaration of Mohler’s lack of clear advice:
None of this settles the question of whom Evangelicals should support in the 2012 presidential race.
Much more than that. None of Mohler’s writing settles the question of what a Christian’s social and political responsibility is when that Christian goes to the voting booth. There are no Biblical requirements for Christian candidates. There are no principles for Biblical political action. There are no principles for Biblical civil government. There are no principles for what law should rule the land. Mohler talks loosely about “our own worldview,” but he doesn’t explain what that worldview is when it comes to civil government and politics. All he has done is say that it’s okay to vote for a candidate that says he is a Christian. That’s all.
How is this possible? How come the president of the largest Christian seminary in this nation has no clear advice to give when it comes to political action and civil government? How is it that he has no clear principles to offer when we Christians choose our candidates for office?
The answer lies in a sentence in the middle of the article:
In a fallen world, political questions are always contextual questions.
This is a professor’s newspeak: A language that is deliberately vague and misleading because the professor knows that if he expressed his views directly, his listeners won’t like them. But when the words are chosen carefully (“contextual”), and if conditional clauses are added (“in a fallen world”), the true nature of the professor’s worldview and ethical commitments won’t be so easily unmasked. Let’s see what Mohler’s statement actually means.
What he is saying is that political questions will always have their answers dependent on the context, i.e. on the circumstances. It is the immediate situation that determines how we react politically and how we vote. There is no clear and unequivocal Biblical absolute standard for political action and civil government applicable to all times and all situations. The answer to the question of “How then shall we vote?” is not ethical in nature; or, if it is ethical in nature, its answer must be found not in the Bible but in the specific political context of the time. The true meaning of Mohler’s statement is that political questions are subject to situational ethics, that is, to moral relativism, where there are no eternal, immutable moral principles that apply to all situations and all times.
The true wickedness of Mohler’s statement becomes even more obvious when we take it to its logical end: Why limit it to only political questions? Why not say that “in a fallen world,” all questions are always contextual? Why not say that in a fallen world, questions of personal morals are always contextual? (Remember that Mohler declared that the sin of sodomy is not just a choice.) Why not say that family questions are always contextual? What about church questions, or questions about business ethics, or education, or training our children in the Lord, etc., etc.? What could stop anyone from declaring – based on Mohler’s statement – that in a fallen world all ethics is situational, all ethical responses are decided by the circumstances, and we must always choose between concrete options, not “between theoretical constructs,” as Mohler himself says? (By the way, if we don’t have any theoretical constructs, how do we decide between candidates? Aren’t real candidates only representative of worldviews and ethical principles?)
Such moral relativism must be expected from one who is a proponent of the Two Kingdoms theology. In the Two Kingdoms theology, there is no clear Biblical standard for social action; only the “redemptive kingdom” of the church is under the Biblical Law – to a certain extent. But the “common kingdom” of the society is under the “natural law,” a law that is supposedly found not in the Bible but in nature, and is common to all, believers and unbelievers. That “natural law” controls the civil government and all the other responsibilities a Christian may have outside of his personal faith and outside of the church.
But no one has the holy book of that “natural law.” No one knows what it specifically says. The doctrine of the Two Kingdoms assumes there is such a clearly expressed body of principles called “natural law,” but it can’t tell where it is. People do not naturally agree on what a law should be; it is only in the Bible that we find a clear law given by God. All other laws are men’s laws; and while they may sound “natural” to one group of men, they would be unnatural to another group of men. And the Two Kingdoms theology has no answer to which of all man-made laws should be “natural” to all men.
The result is moral relativism. If the civil government is controlled by “natural law,” and if no one knows what that “natural law” is, we end up with laws that are “contextual,” i.e. decided by the personal whims of politicians for specific circumstances, in favor of specific interests. If the Law of God is not declared to be the only law for civil government, then there is no clear idea of what law is, and therefore Christians are left helpless and without an answer to the question, “How then shall we vote?” And more than that, they are left with no answer to the question of what the civil government should look like in order to be obedient to God. Following Mohler’s theology of the Two Kingdoms, we must come to the conclusion that it is all relative.
Like Frederick Engels wrote in a letter to Conrad Schmidt of 1890, that in the issues of economics and politics, “everything is relative and nothing is absolute.” Mohler’s moral relativism when it comes to political questions was shared by the founders of Communism as well.
And that’s why it is not the socialists in this country that I fear but our own Christian – and especially Reformed – celebrities.