Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Occupy Handbook 2

Chapter 2 features the (in)famous Paul Krugman and Robin Wells, who argue that the 2008 crisis was a text-book Keynesian crisis with obvious Keynesian solutions, solutions which were ignored for political reasons. After laying out the facts about inequality, noting that 2007 levels were equal to those on the eve of the Great depression, they addresses this question:

Why does higher inequality seem to produce greater political polarization? Crucially, the widening gap between the parties has reflected Republicans moving right, not Democrats moving left. This pops out of the Poole-Rosenthal-McCarty numbers, but it’s obvious from the history of various policy proposals. The Obama health care plan, to take an obvious example, was originally a Republican plan, in fact a plan devised by the Heritage Foundation. Now the GOP denounces it as socialism.

The most likely explanation of the relationship between inequality and polarization is that the increased income and wealth of a small minority has, in effect, bought the allegiance of a major political party. Republicans are encouraged and empowered to take positions far to the right of where they were a generation ago, because the financial power of the beneficiaries of their positions both provides an electoral advantage in terms of campaign funding and provides a sort of safety net for individual politicians, who can count on being supported in various ways if they lose an election. [10]

Krugman and Wells argue, then, that inequality was the cause of the crisis. They contend the 1% became rich enough to buy the Republican party, and to cause deregulation enough to create crisis. However, while the first part of that assertion may very well be true (and I have sympathy with it), there are other points to be made. Firstly, rich people and institutions, like banks, support the Democrats as well. Secondly, rich people can cause crises (even unintentionally) through manipulating the market just as much as they could through recklessly deregulating it. I’ve read fairly persuasive (to my mind) responses to their view along the lines that (a) Hoover was not significantly practicing austerity, (b) that “regime uncertainty” may help to explain the length of the depression (see the work of Robert Higgs), and (c) that the 2008 crisis cannot realistically be traced ultimately to deregulation, but rather should be blamed on various interventions through fiscal and monetary policies (this is a common Austrian argument, anyway, and an example can be seen in Thomas Woods’ Meltdown). These things are at least worth considering, and actually need not oppose Krugman and Wells’ point that rich people may have caused this crisis; this is more about the mechanism through which they might have done this.

Krugman and Wells, I think, are fair to ask us to consider whether the rich might have effectively bought a significant chunk of the democratic machinery of the USA. And it perhaps should lead us to consider whether it may not be just to try to set a limit to inequality simply to prevent this possibility. Republicans/Conservatives are completely willing to engage in preemptive attacks in cases like Iraq, or potentially in Iran, to prevent disaster to the republic. Why, then, not preemptive action to prevent a coup by crony capitalists in their own country? The principles seem the same to me.

Occupy Handbook 1

Whilst browsing my local Chapters-Indigo, trying to find a half-decent use for a recent well-appreciated gift-card, this jumped out at me:

I couldn’t resist. One of the features that attracted me to it was the brevity of the (many) chapters. Because it is broken up into small bits, it makes for good blogging material. Thus, I hope in the weeks ahead, to occasionally blog on things that strike me as interesting. I pretend to no expertise on economics, and almost as little on politics. Hopefully, still, someone besides me will find it interesting.

To begin, a comment on the introduction, and on the first essay by Michael Lewis. Janet Bryne writes in her introduction:

Occupy Wall Street has the rare distinction of being a protest movement that even the objects of its attack can find little fault with. According to the Spectrem Group, a consulting firm serving ultra-high-net-worth individuals, 61 percent to 68 percent of millionaires support raising taxes on millionaires. Although every banker [we learn later that Paul Volcker is the only exception--AF] I approached to participate in this book, including JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, politely declined, it was impossible not to sense that, behind the scrim, income equality was a subject that everyone, even bankers, wanted to speak about. [xvi]

As always, when I read statistic assertions, I think of that infamous quote about statistics. But let’s assume this is true. Is this a remarkable fact? Perhaps it is; many would say these people are voting against their own interests. But I wonder if this is not, in a way, defining “self-interest” in a rather Darwinian way, as pitting the survival of one against the survival of the other. Is it really in the interest of millionaires to always vote to lower taxes on themselves? Consider a possible analogy: a man who knows he is going to binge drink at a party, and therefore takes the precaution of giving his keys to his friends. Prudent people sometimes act in ways that might, on first glance, seem to harm themselves by restricting their freedom of choice, but which, on a more thorough analysis, at least preserve their external conformity to the standards of goodness written on their nature as social beings.

In the first chapter, Michael Lewis gives us a 1%-er Screwtape writing to his posse of 1%er Wormwoods. He expresses (in his indirect way) what he believes the 1% have to hope for, if they want to survive with their privilege intact:

The modern Greeks offer the example in the world today that is, the committee has determined, best in class. Ordinary Greeks seldom harass their rich, for the simple reason that they have no idea where to find them. To a member of the Greek Lower 99 a Greek Upper One is as good as invisible. He pays no taxes, lives no place, and bears no relationship to his fellow citizens. As the public expects nothing of him, he always meets, and sometimes even exceeds, their expectations. As a result, the chief concern of the ordinary Greek about the rich Greek is that he will cease to pay the occasional visit.

That is the sort of relationships with the Lower 99 we must cultivate if we are to survive. We must inculcate, in ourselves as much as them, the understanding that our relationship to each other is provisional, almost accidental, and their claims on us non-existent. [6]

This passage lept out at me because it poignantly expressed the inversion of the natural law that Emil Brunner described in his Justice and the Social Order, as I’ve noted before. Instead of the classes seeing each other as part of an organic whole which must work in an integrated and mutually beneficial manner to achieve the common good, the rich, in Lewis’ fictional letter, are counselling themselves to believe they have no obligations to people they have not contracted to fulfill. If (and I write this conditionally because Lewis is imagining this dialogue, and offers no proof here that it corresponds to the actual beliefs of any sizeable portion of rich people) this is how the 1% really think of themselves, then they are ultimately only harming themselves, just as an arm which decided it could survive just fine without the body would soon learn it is not the whole.

Two Kingdoms Roundup

From time to time I discuss magisterial Protestant political theology here at CoG, and in that vein I wanted to direct our readers to a series that has just completed. Brad Littlejohn and, in one case, Peter Escalante, have done a helpfully brief series on two kingdom theology, laying out their narrative from Luther (and his context) to the present day, via Calvin, Hooker, and early modern thinkers like Locke.

Here are the six installments

The Two Kingdoms: A Guide for the Perplexed—Pt. 1: Introducing the Antagonists
The Two Kingdoms: A Guide for the Perplexed—Pt. 2: From Luther to Calvin
The Two Kingdoms: A Guide for the Perplexed—Pt. 3: From Calvin to Hooker
The Two Kingdoms: A Guide for the Perplexed—Pt. 4: Richard Hooker
The Two Kingdoms: A Guide for the Perplexed—Pt. 5: From Hooker to Locke
The Two Kingdoms: A Guide for the Perplexed—Pt. 6: Why Does it Matter?

Brad nicely summarizes many of the themes within the series (though there is much more in the final installment than the following):

1) It [Protestant two-kingdoms thinking] de-sacralized, or more properly, de-totalized, the State and the exercise of civil authority. Political authority was still ordained by God, accountable to God, and indeed redeemed in Christ, to be sure, and to this extent, could be said to mediate his rule. However, this rule of God’s “left hand” was radically distinct from His proper work of redemption and oversaw matters of temporary and limited significance; civil authorities were responsible to preserve the created order, not to bring in the new creation. This teaching set a decisive limit to the scope of civil authority, or the sorts of demands it could make. Of course, medieval papalism had certainly limited the state as well, but by seeking to make the civil authorities the policemen of the church, it had made rulers tangle with matters of conscience with politics, making heresy a civil crime. Although haltingly and inconsistently, Luther’s heirs worked to disentangle these two.

2) More foundationally, it deprived the church as such of juridical or coercive authority. There could be no spiritual jurisdiction in the full and proper sense of both of these terms. This was in stark contrast to the medieval system, in which the penitential system of the church was conceived in increasingly juridical terms, and the church accordingly tended to take on the characteristics of a civil polity. Worst of all, in the Crusades and in Boniface’s claim to a plenitudo potestatis, it made the sword to be a possession of spiritual rulers, calling for holy violence on behalf of the Church against the Church’s enemies. Luther’s reform, however, radically de-sacralized violence, associating it entirely with temporal rule and very limited temporal ends, and many of his heirs admirably carried forward this legacy.

3) Closely related to these two points, it stood as a bulwark against any attempt to immanentize the eschaton. Since we walk by faith, not by sight, any attempt to attribute eschatological ultimacy to any visible institution or activity was misguided. The two-kingdoms doctrine instilled in the Christian a sense of healthy detachment toward earthly loyalties, a healthy realism about what earthly institutions can accomplish, and offered consolation when they failed to achieve their lofty aims. It discouraged any attempt to make the kingdom of God a complete outward reality here and now by force, whether by holy war or holy law. Neither civil authorities nor church authorities could expect to create a perfectly virtuous people here in the midst of history.

4) Because of all these things, it treated freedom of conscience as sacrosanct. Because faith was not dependent on any human works, nor could it depend on any human authority, God alone remained master of the conscience, and his word alone, not the commands of either princes or bishops, could bind it. Although of course the realm of this freedom was debated fiercely and at times constricted, the principle was clear, and however much Protestants might quarrel over the scope of “things indifferent,” the fact that civil authority was limited to the regulation of these set the stage for the progressive expansion of civil society and individual freedom.

5) It served as a bulwark against an overextension of the sola Scriptura principle, to which many Protestants were tempted, and safeguarded the continuing value of natural reason and prudence to guide political deliberation. Good two-kingdoms thinkers resisted any idea of a Scripturally-mandated blueprint for politics or jurisprudence. This was one respect in which two-kingdoms thinking, in many other respects hostile to late medieval theology, preserved some of the rich contributions of scholastic Aristotelianism. Richard Hooker is perhaps the most prominent example of this use of the two-kingdoms doctrine, recovering the full resources of Thomism in his account of law in the civil kingdom even while maintaining a staunch Protestantism when it came to the spiritual.

6) In all these ways, the two kingdoms doctrine clearly paves the way for the development of liberal institutions. However, it provides what many Christian defenders of liberalism have lacked—a basis for secularity in the sense of non-ultimacy, but not in the sense of non-religiousness. In Protestant two-kingdoms thinking, the civil kingdom, despite all of the above, remains both informed by and concerned with the exercise of true religion. While natural law was retained and even championed by many of these thinkers, Scripture remained its authoritative interpreter, and the redemption wrought in Christ, although fully realized only in the eschaton, had implications for civil rule inasmuch as it disclosed the proper, restored order of fallen creation. Since grace perfected nature, good religion conduced to civil peace, and hence a good ruler could not be entirely indifferent to the promotion of true religion, although he must never seek to compel belief.

As a bonus, a few other essays by these gentlemen:

In celebration of the upcoming DVD release of The Dark Knight Rises, I want to share again a condensed form of a multi-post discussion Littlejohn wrote on the political themes of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. I include this post here both because I’m a complete Batman nerd, and because TDKR can be plausibly seen, in my humble opinion, as an apology for a 2K order over against the eschaton-immanentizing project of Bane/The League of Shadows.

Escalante (in some cases along with Steven Wedgeworth) has also discussed the themes of the 2K series previously. Here he interacts with Davey Henreckson further on Locke’s period, and here and here Peter and Steven delve into more detail on Calvin.

I commend to you, in general, both The Sword and the Ploughshare, and The Calvinist International.

On How My Mind Has Changed

I used to spend a fair amount of energy defending libertarian positions on politics and economics on this blog. In the time that has passed since then, I have shifted my positions on a number of issues, but the conclusion is, I don’t regard myself as a libertarian in any sense anymore. In general, my political/economic views probably come most near to Philip Blond’s Red Toryism (or, insofar as it is another name for the same thing, Blue Labour). Since I have changed positions quite substantially, I feel I owe it to my readers to be explicit in my shift. (more…)

Church History on the Ground

I think I have always had a latent desire to write. Over the course of my lazy school days it would pop up once in a while, but in the last few years it has become something of an obsession. Probably the earliest memory I have of taking real pleasure in writing was when I was in the eighth grade when I submitted a piece to “Young Authors”—a project to encourage Canadian school kids to write. My contribution was Mountain Home, self-consciously modeled after Louis L’Amour, my hero. When earlier this year I had the joy of publishing my first book, “Rivers of Living Water”: Celebrating 125 Years of Hughson Street Baptist Church, Hamilton, Ontario, 1887-2012 (co-authored with Michael Haykin), I began to discern that maybe my childish project told a deeper story than a cowboy who was blinded by buckshot.

This little book may not seem all that exciting to you, but it is for me for two reasons. The first, although it isn’t published with an academic press, it is my first book and I take personal satisfaction in it. The feeling that I have is likely similar to that of a construction worker who finally completes a deck. All of the hard work has finally paid off; there is a feeling of accomplishment holding it in my hands. Also, I had a wonderful experience doing the research and writing with my mentor, and I learned a lot about doing history.

The second is that it has forced me to think about my own calling, in particular: Why do I want to write church history? The answer may seem obvious. Of course, I want to make a career out of being an historian, and would love to publish respected studies with an academic press. But, as I have learned from both the teaching and example of Dr. Haykin, church history as a discipline or profession is not an end in itself. There are bigger issues for the Christian historian than scholarly respect—the ultimate being the glory of the Triune God, the author of history.

The Use of Church History on the Ground

With “Rivers of Living Water” I came to see that the three hundred or so copies that were printed, though never destined to be a best-seller, do glorify God because they now reside in the hands of the members of Hughson Street Baptist for their encouragement. These members are given a sense of their God-originated identity as a local church, they see how God persevered with them through times of hardship, and how he has blessed them immeasurably. Because of this, I am convinced that Christian historians need to do more of this ground-level writing of church history, inglorious in the eyes of many though it may be.

There are challenges to doing this kind of work. Not only may historians overlook the stories of their own churches in favour of writing on a more mainstream subject, but churches themselves are not convinced of the need to record their past. On the day that “Rivers of Living Water” was released, a woman came to Dr. Haykin and me and told us how, some fifteen years previous, she saw that someone had thrown all of the church minute books in the garbage! When she saw that dates on the cover of these books went back to the 1880s, she rescued them from the trash. It is horrifying to think what it would mean if they had been picked up by a garbage collector! Our book certainly could not have been written.

Another more modern obstacle is that churches no longer keep minute books or other such documents in hard-copy. Everything is digitized and easily deleted. Nor do pastors keep diaries that are tremendous resources for later researchers. The stories of how churches were founded, under what conditions they flourished, how they overcame obstacles, what previous pastors were like, what kind of theology they espoused are all important for a congregation’s self-understanding. It helps them discern their identity in the context they are in currently in the twenty-first century. For instance, Hughson Street is located in Hamilton’s North End that has long been a blue-collar neighbourhood marked by poverty. As Hughson Street continues to impact their community in the twenty-first century, they can look back in their past to see how God used them in the lives of their neighbours. For churches to read stories of how God led them through a crisis, or how he blessed the preaching with growth, are all parts of what historians call a “usable past,” and can help a church navigate rough waters, or be encouraged in God’s goodness.

Encouraging Church History on the Ground

If God has called you to the task of doing church history, may I encourage you (if you have not done this already) to approach your elders to see if they would be interested in you writing your church’s history? If you are a professional historian and maybe do not have the time to do it yourself, why not mentor a budding historian in this task as Michael Haykin did with me? Mine was a tremendous learning experience, I spent hours going through old minute books, correspondence, sermons, and other old manuscripts—I had the careful guidance of a seasoned historian who helped not only with research, but taught me how to construct a narrative out of the work I had done. We are now doing another similar book for Mount Pleasant Road Baptist in Toronto. Dr. Haykin has also recently published “Declaring the Whole Counsel of God,” a history of Trinity Baptist Church in Burlington, Ontario.

I would also like to encourage denominations to commission historians to publish denominational histories at regular intervals. We have a great example of this with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, who enlists their own historian to publish various types of works at different occasions to mark OPC milestones. Denominational institutions, whether at head-office level, or even seminaries, should have archives that house not only these broader histories, but copies of individual church’s histories. Even more helpful would be for an archivist to collect and catalogue precious minute books and other old manuscripts for proper preservation and use by historians. McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton has the Canadian Baptist Archive, which was a tremendous resource that I used as I carried on research for the Hughson Street book.

Finally, might I also encourage you if you are a pastor reading this? If you don’t have the ability or the time to do it yourself, why not commission someone—either in your church, if possible, or someone you know—to publish your church’s history? You should make the resources available (don’t throw them out!), and have some monies budgeted for such a project. I would also highly suggest that you keep hard copies of relevant manuscripts in an archive somewhere in your church, or in a denominational institution, so that future researchers will have adequate sources to construct a history with.

I only see this as a win-win situation, both for the historian and the church. It can be a great source of blessing for both. And beyond that, God will receive glory for all of the work that we collectively will remember that he did in the life of his church.

The Nature Of OT Laws

I just today found some thought provoking work done by my friend Brad Littlejohn a couple years back on the nature of some OT case laws. More specifically, he is, in various ways, fielding arguments from the perspective of Reconstructionists and theonomists (though also to some degree from people outside those camps, such as Christopher Wright and Umberto Cassuto) which suggest that many laws, especially several of an economic nature, were not enforced in Israel. They were considered as moral exhortations without legal force. Littlejohn argues ultimately that this is an anachronistic imposition of modern liberal legal perspectives onto the Torah.

Three posts on the subject: 1, 2, 3.

And his main essay: The Heart of Torah: Understanding Law, Justice, and Mercy in the Old Testament. [Since the direct link didn't seem to work, to find the essay, go here and scroll to the very bottom of the page: Writings]

In The Last Moment

Shot by Tracey Shelton, this is the most arresting photo I’ve seen in a while, it captures the exact moment that a tank shell hits a group of rebel fighters in Syria:

The men were reaching for their weapons as they had just been informed that there was a government tank in the area. Only the man in the foreground survives, the other three are completely obliterated. There is a collection of the photos here showing the scene before and after the attack.

Update: BagNews posts some thoughts on the photos here.

Bruce Winter On 1 Corinthians 7:17-24

I want to engage briefly with an argument regarding 1 Cor 7:17-24 Bruce Winter has put forward in Seek the Welfare of the City. In that text, Paul commends Christians to remain in the calling (Winter argues this should be translated “class”) they were in when they were converted. He then applies this to several specific cases: (1) removing circumcision; (2) becoming circumcised; (3) being released from slavery; and (4) becoming a slave.

Winter’s suggests that general reason Paul opposed changing classes in these cases was that the motive behind doing so was to increase social status. This would imply Paul did not approve of desiring increased social status.

To add a bit more detail to his case (see chapter 8 of the book, “Social Mobility”, for the full case) In the case of removing circumcision, being circumcised was often looked down on by Gentiles, and thus removing all traces of Jewish ancestry could indeed help one to be upwardly mobile. On the matter of becoming circumcised, Winter argues (more specifically in regard to Galatians 6:12, but says it applies here as well) that Gentile Christians could be tempted to do this in order to attain the status of religio licita, which would obviously be an improvement for someone who could not worship the emperor but had no legal exemption from doing so (the precarious position of many Gentile Christians). On being released from slavery, Winter emphasizes that this was a concession, and that Paul also that Christian slaves should not be anxious about their status. On becoming a slave, Winter notes that some forms of slavery available in the Roman empire could actually lead to improvements in status for some free people. He also notes that becoming a slave normally included an act of implicit idolatry, swearing by the genius of the paterfamilias. (more…)

Church History and the Preacher

Here is a bold statement by Timothy George, church historian, and dean of Beeson Divinity School:

Church history is much more than the history of the church. Anyone well trained in the study of the human past can become an expert in the history of Christianity, the history of Christian thought, or the development of institutional and denominational church life. But church history is a theological discipline rooted in the self-revelation of the biblical God, the God who makes and keeps covenant with his people. As such, it is enormously relevant to the task of proclamation, the primary job of every God-called minister of the gospel. I dare to say that, apart from the direct study of the Holy Scriptures themselves, no discipline in the theological curriculum is more important for the sermon preparation of the preacher.

Timothy George, “SBJT Forum: Profiles on Expository Preaching,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 3.2 (Summer 1999), 89.

Expert Historians

In the recent kerfuffle over David Barton’s book on Thomas Jefferson being recalled by Thomas Nelson, it’s publisher, Anthony Bradley has shared his thoughts regarding history writing. His point is that only experts should be doing history and those non-experts, in this case pastors, should keep to their own profession. Bradley cites Doug Wilson as an example of this sort of “pastoral omniscience” (I confess to being hard-pressed to draw the link between Barton and Wilson as Bradley does, but be that as it may). His post got me thinking about the following quote from James Banner that might provide better balance:

Yet even many of those who practice history without having been formally trained to do so or who may not be compensated for the historical work they produce can be, and I believe ought to be, considered professional historians in the way I use the term. After all, in the role of historian—whether as writers of history, schoolteachers of history, or docents in museums of history—they know deeply (or at least should know deeply) one or more of the same bodies of knowledge that academic scholars have mastered. They are judged (or at least should be judged) by the same governing norms of historical research and presentation. Surely they are affected by the same institutional structures and realities of historical pursuits as are more conventionally defined historians, and they are expected to conduct themselves by the same ethical standards that govern the historical work of those to whom the term “professional” is customarily applied. Are we to consider them lesser historians and their endeavors lesser historical practices by virtue of their not possessing a doctorate in history or not devoting themselves full time on a college or university faculty to Clio’s discipline?

James M. Banner, Jr., Being a Historian: An Introduction to the Professional World of History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), xiii.

If this is so, then Bradley’s case against Wilson (in this instance) is overstated. The problem is not with non-experts doing history per se, rather any historian not adhering to the norms set by good history writing. Barton, it has been shown through the writings of Throckmorton, Fea, etc., does not follow the standards that make for reliable history. In the case of Doug Wilson, maybe Bradley could do the more effective job of offering a thoroughgoing critique—say, in the vein of Throckmorton—and allow Wilson his proper response. Historians, as broadly defined by Banner, could then be the judge.

On a separate note, I would be interested to know Bradley’s thoughts on historians who step out of their fields of expertise. Carl Trueman penned a book on American politics, was that inappropriate?