Nov 04

Slaying Leviathan: Limited Government and Resistance in the Christian Tradition, by Glenn S. Sunshine ★★★★

This recently published book provides a survey of political philosophy throughout the modern era in reference to the Christian church. This book is a very brief survey of what could have been volumes of material, succinctly stated in a manner to allow for reading the entirety of the book within 1-2 evenings. It was a delightful read, and I gained some new insights and perspectives from the thinking of Glenn.

Each chapter encompasses a time period. The early patristic period entails Christians as the enemy of the state until the time of Constantine becoming a Christian and allowing tolerance to Christians within the Roman Empire. The Augustinian era was influenced heavily by the writings of St. Augustine, who allowed the state to impose discipline on the church, notably during the episode of the Donatist controversy. Subsequent chapters delineate how the thinking of Augustine, amalgamated with the writings of Aristotle, provided a basis for interaction of church and state. The Magna Carta in England drafted limits to the power of the King within his kingdom, and defined him as a not-so-powerful ruler, subject to the will of the princes. I find this period in history to be the most fascinating and one of my favorites, in that the interaction of Kings with the church (pope) details some fascinating tales, with the Holy Roman Empire and France attempting to define the limits of the church, which in turn pushed for maximal authority over the state. Sadly, this episode in history was skimmed through but is most instructive when examined in detail.

Sunshine then begins a discussion of the intrinsic philosophy of politics, grappling with definitions of justice and liberty. Inside the church, the Franciscans brought new concepts as to property rights, while the scholastics countermanded with a further definition of how property rights fit into the schema of natural law. Interestingly, in the settlement of America, taking away (?) land from the Indians would have been a delightful discussion at this point. The Reformation forced further definition of how a Christian should interact with government. The Reformers continued the concept of the Augustinian two cities, that of God and that of man, but redefined the church itself within the city of man, and the invisible church of true believers within the city of God. Calvin pictured the relationship between the church and the state as a covenantal relationship, both being separate, but both interacting for each other’s good. The Anabaptists were somewhat disparagingly mentioned without a good development of Anabaptist thinking regarding interaction with the state. Further development of Luther’s reaction to the Knight’s revolt and Peasant’s revolt resulting in clarity on Luther’s part as to keeping the church and the state separate and independent. It took the French Huguenots to clarify the occasional need to stand up to the state. I felt that Glenn was a bit unkind, or perhaps engaged too extreme of brevity to build the Huguenot case for resistance to the state. A separate chapter details church resistance to the state in Great Britain. The attacks on the Protestant church by the two Marys, and then the two Charles, were responded to by various Puritans, as well as Samuel Rutherford in his book, Lex Rex. Rather than viewing the Kings as there by divine right, Rutherford suggested that when kings act contrary to the law of God, the subjects have the right (and responsibility?) to remove them. In this general period is found the writings of Thomas Hobbes, who suggested the relationship of the rulers and the subjects was a social contract, entirely secular, which did not need or use a god. Hobbes was not well accepted for his political propositions.

It is in the aftermath of this setting that gave rise to the thinking of John Locke. The religious wars in France had come to an end through the Edict of Nantes, with its erosion leading to Huguenots fleeing France during the reign of the Sun King. In England, the Glorious Revolution of William and Mary led to peace among Protestants. Reason is used to develop the “natural” rights of man, and religion only provides a gloss to the enlightenment thinking of the Lockean propositions. Utilizing Rutherford’s ideas from a secular frame of thinking, Locke defines rights, property rights, and the right to rebel when those rights are infringed upon. Locke is given much attention because it is to Locke that the framers of our US constitution relied heavily upon. The founding fathers in the USA were divided, the northern states having a Puritan heritage, while the southern states having a greater affinity to the enlightenment principles. Sunshine suggests that the constitution was written as a “Christian” document, though that simply is not true. The main writer of the constitution was James Madison, a thoroughly enlightened thinker with deep admiration (along with Thomas Jefferson) for the soon to be French revolution. I agree that the US constitution does not exclude God as strongly as the ensuing French constitution but still was drawn from mostly entirely secular sources, such as John Locke and Classical thinkers like Aristotle and various Romans. True, writers such as Os Guinness suggest the difference between the French revolution and the American revolution is best stated in terms of how they regard the church and the state, yet that difference is simply a matter of degree.

Sunshine’s final chapter offers a summary as well as reflections on current events in the USA today, with its degeneration of morals, and loss of meaning to the constitution through the courts reading the constitution as a “living” document. Though he speaks highly of the US constitution when applied within the context of a “moral” public, he does not develop a Scriptural approach to government. In fact, no Scripture is even quoted by him. In VanTil’s thinking, the enlightenment influence on the US constitution, even with its Christian gloss, should be greeted with horror. I have read Christian attempts to honestly define what a Christian government should look like. They range from the reconstructionist/theonomist Mark Ludwig’s True Christian Government to the Anabaptist John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus. Both books are excellent (essential) reads for the curious Christian engaging in politics. What I have been persuaded of is that nobody has yet gotten it totally right, including Augustine, the Scholastics, Luther or Calvin, Hobbes, Locke, the founding fathers of the US constitution, or current thinkers. I include myself, though I tend to favor Augustine as the best thought out writer on church and state. Sunshine should have mentioned the likes of Martin Luther King, or Mother Theresa, Lech Wałęsa, and many others who have stood true to the faith in resistance to the state. Earlier history of the world includes so many others, from Gottschalk to Savaranola, Huss, Tyndale, and others that will be greatly remembered in eternity but forgotten in the current moment, brave men that stood tall in resistance against the faith. Psalm 2 remains persistently true, even in the face of a “Christian” nation…

Psalms 2:1-6 (ESV) Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”

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