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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Monday, June 12, 2017

Book Review: Calvin and the Whigs: A Study in Historical Political Philosophy




Book Review:  Calvin and the Whigs:  A Study in Historical Political Philosophy

“Like all other knowledge, our knowledge of God consists of certain propositions or truths. No doubt it is true that “that which God reveals of himself...is so rich and deep [presumably Bavinck means extensive and complicated] that it can never be fully known by any human individual.” But this is not because the knowledge of God is a peculiar and different type of knowledge: It is because life is too short to gain an understanding of the Bible. The defect lies in the shortness of human life, and often in the mediocrity of the man, not in the understandability of the revelation, for all Scripture is profitable for doctrine.”

Gordon H. Clark. The Trinity (Kindle Locations 1529-1533). The Trinity Foundation.

Ruben Alvarado.  Calvinism and the Whigs:  A Study in Historical Political Philosophy.  (Aalten:  Pantocrator Press, 2017).

The author of this work of historiography kindly sent me a review copy of the book.  But in keeping with my commitment to offer solid critical reviews as I have done before, I will simply say what I truly think.  His book purports to explicate the Huguenot point of view of political philosophy and to survey the evolution of political constitutionalism from the divine right of kings to a constitutionalism based on the Presbyterian or Calvinist view of political philosophy as advocated by the French Huguenots and their influence on the Dutch Reformed form of government as it existed under the Calvinist view of constitutionalism.  It is the thesis of the book that modern concepts of natural law are a departure from a more Christian worldview and political constitutionalism which, under the social contract theory of Hugo Grotius and John Locke, deteriorated into the secularist and anti-Christian civil religion of modernity.


As I am no expert in historiography I will only speak to what I can legitimately discern and deduce from the book based on the Calvinism of the late Dr. Gordon H. Clark as I can best understand his views.  At the outset I should acknowledge that I think Dr. Clark would have agreed that John Locke’s political philosophy and social contract theory ultimately leads to totalitarianism.  On that I can wholeheartedly agree with the author.


However, I should also point out that in my short life and due to the work load I have, I cannot claim to have time or resources to give a more detailed critique and review of Mr. Alvarado’s book.  While the quote from Dr. Clark above pertains to Bavinck’s doctrine of the unknowability of God, I think it also applies to how much learning is possible in this life.  It is not that I cannot learn more political philosophy and historiography but that in my short life of 57 years that has not been the primary focus of my personal studies after college and seminary.


I was troubled a bit by his giving credit in the foreward to the book to both Peter Leithart and Gary North for reviewing the manuscript.  I was troubled because Leithart is a promoter of the heresy of the Federal Vision and Gary North is an advocate of the theonomy movement.  From a Clarkian Scripturalist persepective this could indicate some presupposed biases on the part of the author.   However, in a Facebook message to me, Mr. Alvarado assured me that the reviews by Leithart and North were done several years ago prior to Leithart’s departure into the Federal Vision realm.  Also troubling was the use of the term “theocracy” to refer to the Calvinist form of government in Geneva and Holland.  I am not sure how Alvarado is defining theocracy.  Perhaps he means theonomic?  Technically speaking there are no prophets or apostles today nor were there any prophets in Geneva or Holland.  In order for there to be a true theocracy it would be required for there to be ongoing revelation from God as the case was with Moses, Joshua, and to a lesser extent, with the nation of Israel under the rule of David and Solomon, etc.  Since the Bible is the only special revelation from God today, political philosophy must be logically deduced from the Scriptures by good and necessary consequence.  (Westminster Confession of Faith 1:6).


The book is very detailed.  The problem with this is that I got bogged down in the inductive aspects of the book and the analysis.  But careful reading does yield several good points made by the author.  However, I was somewhat troubled by the fact that though the book is supposed to compare and contrast the Calvinist view of political constitutionalism and Whig political philosophy and constitutionalism, the author never fully defines either term.  On the one hand, he seems to say that the Calvinism of Geneva, Holland, and England under the Glorious Revolution are all Calvinist, he then proceeds to say that some Calvinists and Puritans under the Glorious Revolution were latitudinarians.  And on the other hand, even in the beginning of the book, Alvarado never defines exactly what a Whig is.  He simply presupposes that we all already know what a Whig is, although we are told that John Locke is a representative of the Whig political constitutionalism in England.  Also, to avoid any confusion, it should be pointed out that the Glorious Revolution is not the same event as the English Civil War or the Cromwellian Revolution.  (See also:  English Whig Party).


As best I can understand, however, it seems that the Whigs were a British political party who opposed the Tories.  The Whigs advocated for a constitutional government that compromised between the authority of a monarch and a more representative government of elected officials in the Parliament as opposed to the Tory advocacy for the divine right of absolute authority for the monarchy:  


This historiographical predilection presents Whigs as those who stood for progress, liberty, and parliamentary government; Tories, as those who stood for reaction, repression, and absolutist monarchy.  . . . The Whigs gained the predominance in England in 1688, in the wake of the so-called Glorious Revolution, in which William III of Orange assumed the throne, upon abdication of James II.  They proceeded to transform English society.  Their innovations proved so popular that England became the model of enlightened progress in Europe.  By the early nineteenth century everyone within the orbit of English politics and society had become permeated with their particular orientation, so much so that all the new political movements operated on terms the Whigs had established, thus in terms of post-Whig agendas, with this fundamental set of beliefs as common ground.  (Alvarado, pp. 1-2).


The basic thesis of the book is not about Calvin himself but about the theological and philosophical legacy of Calvin as it became known later as Calvinism.  In that view I would say that the book would have been better titled as Calvinism and the Whigs since Calvin himself predates the English Civil War, the Glorious Revolution, and Hugo Grotius and John Locke.  The author goes through a somewhat lengthy argument tracing the roots of constitutionalism and social contract theory all the way back to Augustine’s two kingdoms or two cities view of political and ecclesiastical authority or the two swords view of society.  According to the author, both Calvinism and Roman Catholicism have in common the two swords view and he then links together the Augustinians in both the papist camp and the Calvinist camp and says that both the papists and the Calvinists were favorable to a theocratic or theonomic view of the political constitutional system of government.


While I find his discussion of the development of Hugo Grotius’s natural law theory and the connection to John Locke’s social contract theory interesting and a fairly good analysis, it is troubling that the author thinks the problem originated with Grotius’s Arminianism and Locke’s latitudinarianism.  He overlooks the fact that Calvinism is deduced from the Bible.  The author in fact hardly ever mentions the Bible in his historiographical analysis or his analysis of political philosophy.  The main difference between Roman Catholicism and Calvinism is not latitudinarianism but the source of authority.  Calvinism derives its philosophy of political contract from the Bible, not from the church.  Roman Catholicism places the authority of the church above the authority of Scripture and emphasizes natural law every bit as much as Hugo Grotius and John Locke did.  This seems to be a typical error of theonomists in general where they think Roman Catholicism is a good thing and not part of the very latitudinarianism they complain about.  Furthermore, the author fails to see that placing the sacraments into the political realm and requiring political office holders to partake of the sacraments as keys to the kingdom opens the door for the very abuses that led to the halfway covenant in the Puritan colonies during the time of Jonathan Edwards and his grandfather:


This points, finally, to a subject which is universally neglected by modern historians because its importance is simply not recognized.  Perhaps the key issue of concrete debate during and after the Reformation concerned the nature of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  . . . But the judicial element involved is neglected:  that the administration of the sacraments served to apply judicial decrees concerning inclusion in or exclusion from the Kingdom of Christ.  The ministers in applying these keys were acting in the place of Christ passing judgments in terms of His decrees.  Thus, the administration of the sacraments was considered “binding and loosing:” the application of the very judicial decree of Christ in a particular situation.  Precisely this power, the ramifications of which extend throughout a social order based in Christian faith, was what the secular and lay powers were concerned to remove.  And that explains the fierceness with which this debate was conducted.
Alvarado, pp. 172-173.

Worse, Alvarado has what can only be called a papist view of the sacraments here because the sacraments from a Calvinist perspective are held to be keys to the kingdom only in regards to church membership.  There is no necessary connection between election, regeneration, and church membership.  In fact, the invisible church is composed only of the elect while the visible church is fallible and has members who are both elect and reprobate.  The ministers of the Gospel and the Gospel sacraments are not vicars of Christ acting in the place of Christ.  The fact is the Westminster Confession of Faith outright denies that ministers are vicars of Christ.  Christ alone is the head of the church:

To these officers the keys of the kingdom of heaven are committed, by virtue whereof, they have power, respectively, to retain, and remit sins; to shut that kingdom against the impenitent, both by the Word, and censures; and to open it unto penitent sinners, by the ministry of the Gospel; and by absolution from censures, as occasion shall require. (WCF 30:2 WCS)

The Calvinist and Protestant view is that the Gospel and right belief in doctrinal matters is just as important as sanctification issues and the ministers are not the emphasis.  Rather, the Bible is the final authority, which is why Scripture is given the highest priority in the doctrinal and propositional system of theology deduced from the Bible by good and necessary consequence:

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the word; and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the word, which are always to be observed. (WCF 1:6 WCS)

That being said, I found many of the points made during the discussion convincing.  I am not a theonomist or a supporter of theocracy.  However, it is worthwhile to consider that political philosophy should be deduced from the Bible since all knowledge begins with Scripture.  The author argues that when the role of the family in society is changed to individualism the result is a latitudinarianism whereby individual rights trump what is best for society as a whole.  On that point I can wholeheartedly agree but it should not be forgotten that God ordained the family in creation.  Natural law is nothing more than a form of utilitarian ethics whereby a plurality of individuals who emphasize individual freedom gain control and overpower the biblical values and principles upon which the society was originally founded.  It is literally true that whatever each person thinks is right becomes right.  But this overlooks the total depravity of the fallen human race and the noetic effects of sin  (Psalm 14:1-3; Romans 3:10-23; Romans 8:7).  This is another reason I object to the author’s downplaying of Roman Catholic complicity in latitudinarianism in the political realm, especially since Vatican II.  Basically the Roman Catholic Church is advocating full blown Pelagianism and not even semi-Pelagian anymore.


I object to the neo-orthodox views of the Van Tilian political philosophy whereby the church is to withdraw from the civic realm and allow the ungodly to rule the civic realm and the church should rule the ecclesiastical realm.  Ironically, theonomy originated with Cornelius Van Til’s theology and was promoted by Greg Bahnsen and others.  The author of this book is part of that theonomic philosophy and theology as far as I can tell.  Yet Van Til’s views also led to the very latitudinarianism to which theonomists object!  This is why you have the Westminster Seminary, California theology that emphasizes a total disconnect between the church and the political realm and another stream that originates from the Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia theology.  It is my opinion that both the disjunction between church and state that leads to the anti-Christian values of secular humanism and latitudinarianism and the theonomic view that emphasizes ecclesiastical militancy above biblical authority both lead to the same place.  That is unless our political philosophy is deduced from the Bible the end result will always be skepticism and totalitarianism.


Furthermore, I find it ironic that certain advocates of Clarkian Scripturalism have basically endorsed a form of secular humanism in reaction to their objections to Van Til’s theology and the theonomic views deduced from Van Til.  John Robbins, for example, worked for Ron Paul and supported Ron Paul’s political philosophy of libertarianism.  Every man literally does what is right in his own eyes.  Let it be said that Gordon H. Clark never agreed with libertarianism because it can never be deduced from the Bible.  On the other hand, theonomy is problematic because it leads to theological errors like the Federal Vision, semi-pelagianism, Arminianism and neo-orthodoxy.  The Westminster Seminary, California theology is equally problematic because it leads to antinomianism and latitudinarianism even more quickly.  Lee Irons and hiswife, Misty, for example, are spearheading LGBTQ rights in the civic realm due to the view that the two kingdoms are totally disjunctive and the one has nothing to do with the other.  Basically neo-orthodoxy leads to two extremes of what can only be called civil religion.  The theonomic civil religion endorses the latitudinarianism of theological pluralism and has no problem with the idolatries of Rome so long as biblical morality is loosely adhered to.  The antinomianism of the neo-orthodox views of Westminster California leads to endorsing perversion as a “natural” right in the civic realm and is therefore a form of atheism and secular humanism.  While the author does oppose the Westminster California endorsement of natural law, he seems to think that Roman Catholicism and Calvinism have something in common, which they do not.


I do recommend this book because the author does a good job of tracing the history of natural law and his explanation of what is wrong with natural law is worthy of consideration.  His view of the Dutch Calvinist government is also interesting.  However, he never mentions the fact that the cause of the fall of the Dutch Calvinist government can also be tied directly to the three points of common grace espoused by Abraham Kuyper, who also advocated for a peace treaty and co-belligerency between Calvinism and Rome.  The author seems to think that certain Calvinists rejected Calvin’s two sword view of the church and state and advocated latitudinarianism after the Glorious Revolution.  But the real problem is that the doctrine of common grace is semi-Arminian and raises natural revelation and natural law to the same level as biblical or special revelation and in fact undermines the Bible as the axiom for a solid epistemology for a Christian worldview and for a political theology and philosophy.  When common grace is emphasized above and beyond the special revelation of Scripture the result is skepticism because science and the arts gain equal authority to Scripture and it is not long before the very latitudinarianism that the author opposes results.  The Westminster divines were careful to exclude the traditions of men as a source of authority and it is troubling that Alvarado sees the Roman Catholic Church in such a positive light.  It in fact raises the question of whether or not Alvarado is in fact pushing a version of the Federal Vision heresy where culture and sacraments trump biblical Christianity?  Does he also disagree with the biblical definition of justification as do the Federal Visionists?


As I said before, the analysis of the historical development of secular humanism and social contract theory in the book is helpful.  But I cannot agree with the author that his brand of theocracy or theonomy is a solution to the problem.  As Dr. Gordon H. Clark so aptly pointed out:


By what right does a government exist?  Those who reject divine revelation base the state either on naked power and brutality, or on some sort of social contract, or on a natural development from the family.  Elsewhere I have argued in detail that the latter two reduce to the first;  with the result that secularism eventuates in dictatorship and totalitarian rule.  It is only in the Hebrew-Christian revelation, e.g. in the account of King Ahab and Naboth’s vineyard, that the rightful power of government is limited.

Dr. Gordon H. Clark.  “The Civil Magistrate,” in Essays on Ethics and Politics.  John Robbins, ed.  (Jefferson:  Trinity Foundation, 1992).   Pp. 22-23.

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