15 August 2017

Abraham Kuyper and the Pluralist Claims of the Liberal Project, Part 2: The Church as Voluntary Association

John Locke
As we noted in Part 1, liberalism attempts to guarantee pluralism by empowering the individual, often at the expense of the very communities that go into shaping her. But in so doing, liberalism denies these communities any authority not reducible to the wills of the component individuals.

If, for example, we were to agree with John Locke’s definition of the church, we would find ourselves in territory foreign to the mainstream of the historic faith. According to Locke, “A church, then, I take to be a voluntary society of men, joining themselves together of their own accord in order to the public worshipping of God in such manner as they judge acceptable to Him, and effectual to the salvation of their souls” (emphasis mine). While there are undoubtedly many Christians, especially protestants in the free-church tradition, who would implicitly agree with Locke’s definition, the mainstream of the Christian tradition has viewed the church as the covenant community of those who belong to Jesus Christ, who is its Saviour and head.

Moreover, the gathered church, as distinct from the corpus Christi which is more encompassing, has been generally recognized to be an authoritative institution with the power to bind and loose on earth (Matthew 16:19, 18:18). As such it is more than the aggregate of its members but is a divinely-ordained vessel bearing the gospel to the world and especially to the church’s members.

Throughout the last two millennia, ecclesiastical councils have been convened on occasion to decide authoritatively on difficult doctrinal issues threatening to divide the church. These have yielded creeds and confessions considered binding on the faithful, such as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, deemed authoritative for the major Christian traditions in both east and west. The (Pseudo-)Athanasian Creed is most direct in its claims: “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith; Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.” It is, in short, the church, and not individual Christians, that defines the content of the faith.

It would be difficult to imagine an account of the faith and the church more inconsistent with the voluntaristic ecclesiology of Locke, who asserted that “everyone is orthodox to himself.” By contrast, from the earliest centuries the church as an institution has claimed the authority to determine what is and is not orthodox. Those Christians professing to be orthodox are in effect acknowledging that the terms for their membership in the church are not theirs to set as individuals. Beginning already with the Jerusalem council recorded in Acts 15, the church as a body asserted its authority, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, to resolve potentially divisive issues in binding fashion. To dissent from such decisions was regarded as schismatic and thus sinful.

In past centuries political authorities assumed that ecclesiastical schism was a danger to public order and thus sought to uphold the church’s authority in such matters to protect the unity of the realm. Although some observers like to describe this as a Constantinian settlement, it might better be labelled Theodosian, because it was the Emperor Theodosius who officially established Christianity as the favoured religion of the Roman Empire near the end of the fourth century.

It need hardly be emphasized that, two millennia into the Christian era, most of us live in polities characterized by a diversity of sincerely- and not-so-sincerely-held faiths. We in the west have become concerned, not with the presence of multiple faiths in our own societies, but with the lack of toleration of such multiplicity elsewhere, especially in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, where ancient Christian communities are increasingly besieged by the forces of radical Islam.

Nevertheless, the presence of faith communities adhering to a variety of ultimate beliefs is not without potentially troublesome political implications. This is something that our pre-modern forebears may have understood better than we do. Is law given by God or by the gods? And if by God, the God of Muhammad or the God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ? Few Christians would wish to live under Sharia law, but increasing numbers of devout Muslims believe they are called to establish Sharia as the law of the land, whether in Pakistan, Iraq, Nigeria or Great Britain. In the face of such evidently divisive efforts, how are we to go about living with each other? How can we come up with political principles enabling us to strike a modus vivendi with citizens of other faiths?

For several centuries now professed liberals have come up with what they believe to be the answer to this vexing question, and they think it sufficient to command the loyalties of all citizens irrespective of the “thick” comprehensive doctrines or worldviews to which they otherwise adhere. This liberal solution has profound implications for both directional diversity and societal pluriformity, and it amounts to this: every community and claimed communal obligation must be reduced to its component parts, namely, the wills of the individual members. To the extent that communal obligations exist, they can be justified only in so far as they conform to the voluntary principle. Communities, with all of their supposed differences, must be recast as mere voluntary associations.

We have seen how Locke did this with the gathered church institution, but he more famously did this with political community and even with marriage. In Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau, a social contract among individuals comes to be deemed the source of all political obligation, as graphically illustrated in the famous frontispiece to the first edition of Hobbes Leviathan. Any authority that the state might claim over the individual can be legitimated only with reference to this originating contract.

In the later liberalism of Immanuel Kant and John Rawls, we see a certain level of abstraction added to the social contract, which is reworked such that individuals now use their common reason, ostensibly disconnected from their thicker worldview commitments, to articulate principles of right agreeable to all. Sounds good in theory, but, because it is based on a faulty understanding of human nature and ignores the role ultimate beliefs inevitably play in life, it is unworkable in practice.

Part 3: What Liberalism Implies for the Two Pluralisms

09 August 2017

Abraham Kuyper and the Pluralist Claims of the Liberal Project, Part 1: Liberalism and Two Kinds of Diversity

Although it can be misleading to seek the meaning of commonly-used words and expressions in their etymological origins, in the case of liberalism, the linguistic connection with liberty is all too obvious. The promise of liberty is an attractive one that holds out the possibility of living our lives as we see fit, free from constraints imposed from without. We simply prefer to have our own way and not to have to defer to the wills of others.

Yet even the most extensive account of liberty must recognize that it needs to be subject to appropriate limits if we are not to descend into a chaotic state of continual conflict, which English philosopher Thomas Hobbes memorably labelled a bellum omnium contra omnes, a war of all against all.

Here I propose to compare two approaches to liberty, viz., those of liberalism and of the principled pluralism associated with the heirs of the great Dutch statesman and polymath, Abraham Kuyper. Although each claims to advance liberty, I will argue that the Kuyperian alternative is superior to the liberal because it is based on a more accurate appraisal of human nature, society and the place of community within it.

Arising in the context of an early modern repudiation of ancient, and seemingly outmoded, customs and mores, liberalism proposed to anchor human community in rational principles oriented around the self-interest of sovereign individuals. From Locke to Rawls the liberal project has sought to liberate public life from the particularities of the “thick” accounts of reality rooted in the ancient religious traditions. Why? Because these had apparently proven hopelessly divisive in previous centuries, engendering nearly continual warfare from Luther’s initial efforts at reforming the church 500 years ago to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

Better, it was assumed, to anchor political order, not in a highly disputable claim of divine revelation, but in principles capable of being affirmed by all. Such principles would have to be rooted in a rationality whose only underlying assumption would be that individuals pursue their own interests as they themselves understand them.

Liberalism is thus more than just about liberty. Even in its mildest form it assumes that community is rooted in the collective wills of its individual members, thereby privileging the voluntary principle, that is, the belief that human flourishing depends on the free assent of sovereign individuals to their multiple obligations. The liberal project represents an effort to address the central dilemma of human life famously summed up by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the following maxim: “Man is born free but is everywhere in chains.”

Our very survival as a species in the face of hostile forces of nature depends on our ability and willingness to co-operate with each other for common purposes. If we do not do so, we are doomed at best to poverty and at worst to death. Nevertheless, in so far as we are interdependent, our individual wills are necessarily constrained by the rules we draw up to facilitate this co-operation. This is the paradox that Rousseau tried to address in his own proposals for political order. Although Rousseau, in his Social Contract, took these ideas in a superficially liberal direction, his recipe has definite totalitarian implications, thereby threatening to crush the very diversity that makes politics necessary and indeed possible.

According to the late British political scientist Sir Bernard Crick, politics is all about the peaceful conciliation of diversity within a particular unit of rule. What is meant by this diversity? Richard Mouw and Sander Griffioen identify three basic types: (1) directional or spiritual diversity, viz., the plurality of ultimate beliefs that bind particular communities but are potentially divisive of the larger body politic; (2) contextual diversity, viz., the diversity of customs and mores that come from people living together in local communities that are relatively isolated from each other; and (3) associational diversity, which might better be described as societal pluriformity, viz., the plethora of communal formations characterizing a mature differentiated society. While liberalism represents a longstanding effort to address all three kinds of diversity, for our purposes we shall examine its relationship to numbers one and three, viz., directional diversity and societal pluriformity. Although these two kinds of diversity are logically distinct, any effort to address one inevitably affects the other as well.

An obvious way in which these two types of diversity intersect can be seen in the often vexing church-state issue. If one is an unbeliever, one is unlikely to accord the gathered church a distinct status apart from the state except as a voluntary association of like-minded believers. In denying the authority of the gathered church institution, the political order formed out of this belief will nearly inevitably subordinate it to the political authority of the state, along with a variety of other voluntary associations, such as the Boy Scouts, the local garden club and little league baseball. This, of course, has profound implications for the protection of religious freedom, which is thought to belong only to individuals, and not to the institutions that have shaped them. A liberal worldview privileging individual rights, a particular manifestation of directional diversity, has effectively denied societal pluriformity, or Mouw and Griffioen’s associational diversity.

Crick believes that ordinary politics requires the tolerance of multiple truth claims. While he is undoubtedly empirically correct in his observation, we must be wary of attaching a normative character to this reality because it may effectively mask the extent to which a particular conception of church-state relations is itself rooted in a religiously-based worldview. And, if so, we will need to be prepared to admit that not all pluralisms are created equal.

Part 2: The Church as Voluntary Association

28 July 2017

Happy AR Day! a holiday to counter Bastille Day

G. Groen van Prinsterer
Twenty-some years ago my sister was in France, studying Gregorian chant with the monks at the Abbaye Saint-Pierre in Solesmes. During her time there, the 14th of July rolled around, when the rest of the country celebrates la Fête nationale, better known to us as Bastille Day. But things were quiet in Solesmes and the surrounding countryside. Curious at this lack of merriment, my sister asked why they weren’t joining in the celebrations and was greeted with faces registering shock. In a heavily Catholic region, they would never consider observing a day that marked the start of a godless revolution that wreaked such havoc on the Church, France and the rest of Europe.

There are now 351 days remaining until the next Bastille Day. As we await its occurrence, I would like to propose for that day a counter-holiday to be titled AR Day, “AR” standing for Anti-Revolutionary. After the generation of war and instability set off in 1789 finally ended with Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, many Europeans, especially those still loyal to the gospel of Jesus Christ, set about attempting to combat the ideological illusions the Revolution had engendered. This entailed breaking with the modern preoccupation—nay, obsession—with sovereignty and recovering a recognition of the legitimate pluriformity of society.

In any ordinary social setting, people owe allegiance to a variety of overlapping communities with differing internal structures, standards, and purposes. These are sometimes called mediating structures, intermediary communities or, taken collectively, civil society. This reality stands in marked contrast to liberal individualism and such collectivist ideologies as nationalism and socialism, each of which is monistic in its own way—locating a principle of unity in a human agent to which it ascribes sovereignty, or the final say.

Recognizing that the only source of unity in the cosmos is the God who has created and redeemed us in the person of his Son, Christians are freed from the need to locate a unifying source within the cosmos. Thus the institutional church can be itself, living up to its divinely-appointed mandate to preach the gospel, administer the sacraments, and maintain discipline. The family is free to be the family, nurturing children as they grow to maturity. Marriage is liberated to be itself, free from the stifling constraints of the thin contractarian version now extolled in North America and elsewhere. And, of course, the huge array of schools, labour unions, business enterprises, and voluntary associations have their own proper places, not to be artificially subordinated to an all-embracing state or the imperial self.

This pluriformity is something worth celebrating! It may sound perfectly mundane when described in the way I have here, but the fact that the followers of today’s political illusions find it so threatening indicates that we cannot afford to take it for granted. Here are some suggested readings that highlight this dissenting anti-revolutionary tradition:
  • Johannes Althusius, Politics (1614)
  • Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)
  • Guillaume Groen van Prinster, Unbelief and Revolution (1847)
  • Abraham Kuyper, Our Program (1880)
  • Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (1891)
  • Jacques Maritain, Man and the State (1951)
  • Yves R. Simon, Philosophy of Democratic Government (1951)
  • Friedrich Julius Stahl, Philosophy of Law: the Doctrine of State and the Principles of State Law (1830)
I could go on and list many more resources, but these will suffice for purposes of our new holiday. I propose that we celebrate it by holding public readings from these and similar works. The food would consist of such anti-revolutionary delicacies as boerenkool met worst, haggis, Brazilian pães de queijo and pamonhas, and, for the sake of all those Byzantine-Rite Calvinists out there, loaves of white bread with taramosalata, Kalamata olives, and cruets of extra virgin (Greek!) olive oil.

Music will consist of mass communal singing of the Psalms, preferably from the Genevan Psalter. Additional music will be provided by (why not?) the monks of the Abbaye Saint-Pierre in Solesme! Let’s do it!

This is a numerically altered version of David Koyzis's debut column at Kuyperian Commentary.

10 July 2017

To my students: a reluctant farewell

When I began teaching thirty years ago, I had not anticipated how much I would grow to love the young people in my classes. At Notre Dame during my graduate student years, I had been just another teaching assistant, and thus one more obstacle for the ambitious undergraduates to get past on their way to (for most of them, it seemed) law school. All of that changed when I arrived at what was still called Redeemer College in the autumn of 1987.

In the first course I taught, an introductory political science course, I made a number of missteps—nothing serious, just the ordinary kind that come with inexperience. Nevertheless, at the end of the term, when I read the student evaluations, quite a number of them generously offered this assessment: “Has potential to become an excellent professor.” This could have become a deflating experience, but instead I took heart from their words, and it became an incentive for me to improve my performance in the classroom.

The early years were, of course, filled with the normal stresses of multiple preparations of courses from the ground up. Many a beginning teacher reports that her ambition is simply to keep up with the students from day to day, and that was my experience as well. Nevertheless, despite all the busyness, I made time outside the classroom to be with my students and to converse with them. In the process I found that I was developing a deep love for them which lasted for three decades.

Two episodes stand out for me.

Not long into my teaching career, I was sitting at a cafeteria table with several of my students. One young lady repeated to me something I had said in class as though it were gospel truth, and I was startled and somewhat alarmed at the influence I was already having on her. That night I was unable to sleep, as the words of James 3 echoed through my head: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness.” I quickly recovered, of course, but I was beginning to comprehend the awesome responsibility that teachers carry for communicating truth to the young people in their care.

The second episode occurred after I was married and shortly after our daughter was born three months premature. Theresa had been in two successive hospitals for more than ten weeks after her early birth. Still less than five pounds when she went home with us, she was released from hospital on the very day that Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe was hit by a snowstorm of historic proportions. (Remember when Toronto’s mayor called on federal troops to help dig his city out?) Not knowing what to do, I phoned one of my students on campus, and he brought some of his friends over to our house. They freed our driveway in little time, and we were able to get to St. Joseph’s Hospital on schedule to bring Theresa home. This young man, now in his forties, is still a close friend.

To all of you whom I was privileged to teach over the decades, know that you have my undying affection and loyalty. I have sought above all to show you that the belief that our world belongs, not to ourselves, but to the God who has created and redeemed us has huge implications for political life and for the animating visions underpinning it. I hope I have communicated to you a hunger for justice, especially for the most vulnerable in our society as well as for the communities that support them. My greatest prayer for you is that you will continue to be agents of God’s kingdom in this world for whom Christ died.

In the meantime, although I am unwillingly leaving my current students behind, I fully intend to maintain the friendships I have formed over the years with so many of you. Do stay in touch!

After thirty years of service at Redeemer University College, David Koyzis’ position was terminated due to financial and curricular restructuring. He is currently seeking employment elsewhere and asks for readers’ prayers in the meantime.

26 June 2017

Religion's apparent threat to sovereignty: Rousseau, Sanders and the religious test for public office

During last year's presidential election campaign, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a latecomer to the Democratic Party, positioned himself as a voice for the downtrodden against big moneyed interests, something that many Americans, especially the young, found deeply attractive. In so doing, Sanders drew on a deep tradition of social justice with biblical roots, as evidenced in his powerful address to Liberty University two years ago. Recognizing that “there is no justice when so few have so much and so many have so little,” he laudably demonstrated his concern for the economically disadvantaged in our society. However, judging from his questioning last week of Russell Vought, the President's nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, Sanders appears not to understand that there is no justice where religious liberty lacks protection.

At issue was a blog post Vought had written as an alumnus of Wheaton College, a Christian university near Chicago, in response to a controversy involving one of its faculty members. The offending passage was this: “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.” While it may sound harsh to a nonchristian, Vought was in no way suggesting that Muslims cannot be good citizens or should be treated severely by the governing authorities. He was simply reiterating what the vast majority of Christians have believed for two millennia: that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and that no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:7).

But this appears not to satisfy Sanders, who has shown himself in this respect to be a good student of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), the Genevan political philosopher who famously proposes an ostensibly tolerant civil religion at the end of Book IV of his Social Contract.

There is therefore a purely civil profession of faith of which the Sovereign should fix the articles, not exactly as religious dogmas, but as social sentiments without which a man cannot be a good citizen or a faithful subject. While it can compel no one to believe them, it can banish from the State whoever does not believe them — it can banish him, not for impiety, but as an anti-social being, incapable of truly loving the laws and justice, and of sacrificing, at need, his life to his duty. If any one, after publicly recognising these dogmas, behaves as if he does not believe them, let him be punished by death: he has committed the worst of all crimes, that of lying before the law.

The dogmas of civil religion ought to be few, simple, and exactly worded, without explanation or commentary. The existence of a mighty, intelligent and beneficent Divinity, possessed of foresight and providence, the life to come, the happiness of the just, the punishment of the wicked, the sanctity of the social contract and the laws: these are its positive dogmas. Its negative dogmas I confine to one, intolerance, which is a part of the cults we have rejected.

Those who distinguish civil from theological intolerance are, to my mind, mistaken. The two forms are inseparable. It is impossible to live at peace with those we regard as damned; to love them would be to hate God who punishes them: we positively must either reclaim or torment them. Wherever theological intolerance is admitted, it must inevitably have some civil effect; and as soon as it has such an effect, the Sovereign is no longer Sovereign even in the temporal sphere: thenceforce priests are the real masters, and kings only their ministers.

One needn't dig too far beneath the surface to discern rather quickly that Rousseau's offer of tolerance could scarcely be more intolerant. Anyone who believes that God has revealed himself in specific ways to specific people and that even the state derives its authority from God cannot be a good citizen of the republic.

Rousseau represents a long western tradition extending back at least to Plato that prizes unity over plurality and is uneasy with the multiple overlapping spheres claiming the proximate loyalties of ordinary people everywhere. Indeed the major preoccupation in the modern age has been the establishment of uncontested sovereignty (often with an initial upper-case S), wherein one person or body possesses the final say, the last word—even in matters not generally given to the state. Thus Thomas Hobbes argued for the Sovereign's jurisdiction over ecclesiastical matters. And while John Locke appears superficially more liberal and tolerant than his predecessor, he manages to weaken the church's authority by redefining it as “a voluntary society of men, joining themselves together of their own accord in order to the public worshipping of God in such manner as they judge acceptable to Him, and effectual to the salvation of their souls.” Church as mere voluntary association is easily tamed by the state for its own purposes.

The purveyors of sovereignty have always seen themselves standing in the vanguard of progress—curtailing the influence of the apparently more parochial and old-fashioned communities obstructing their liberating and homogenizing agenda. Nothing lies outside their transformative aspirations, even “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases” which many assume are still protected by the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom. Senator Sanders is obviously heir to this ancient tradition of political monism.

However, there has long been a dissenting tradition more appreciative of the pluriformity of communities in which we are embedded and refraining from giving any one of them priority over the others. Some of its leading figures include Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Johannes Althusius, Tocqueville, Leo XIII, Abraham Kuyper and Sir Bernard Crick. A hallmark of this tradition is the recognition that the very distinctions the sovereigntists seek to obliterate are the ones we must maintain if we are to live together peacefully over the long term. As Crick puts it, politics necessitates the tolerance of different truths. This requires us to distinguish between ecclesiastical, political and other forms of tolerance. No institutional church worth its salt will tolerate its clergy believing that Jesus was a mere prophet and not the second Person of the Trinity and Saviour of the world. On the other hand, the state—defined as the community of citizens led by their government—must draw the boundaries differently, asking from its office-holders, not confessional unity, but fidelity to the constitution and the laws.

More than two centuries ago, the American founders properly included Article IV, section 3 in the Constitution: “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” The mature articulation of such principles as subsidiarity and sphere sovereignty lay in the future, of course, but in adopting this provision the Constitution's architects indicated that they understood that norms applicable in one sphere are not necessarily applicable in another. While a religious test obviously has relevance to the church, the synagogue and the mosque, it should not be relevant to the state and other communities, which, Sanders' opinion to the contrary notwithstanding, lack the normative competence to set confessional boundaries around citizenship and public office.

David Koyzis is Fellow in Politics at the St. George's Centre for Biblical and Public Theology, Burlington, Ontario, Canada. He is the author of Political Visions and Illusions and We Answer to Another. This is cross-posted at First Thoughts.

20 June 2017

Grace and justice: a response to Brunton

The Gospel Coalition's website tells us that, "as a broadly Reformed network of churches, [it] encourages and educates current and next-generation Christian leaders by advocating gospel-centered principles and practices that glorify the Savior and do good to those for whom he shed his life's blood." Founded by Donald A. Carson and Manhattan pastor Tim Keller in 2005, it publishes numerous articles reflecting its commitment to renewing churches through proclaiming the gospel. I have published with them once, and an interview with me recently appeared on their website.

Last year Jacob Brunton posted a critique of TGC which recently came to my attention: How The Gospel Coalition is Killing The Gospel With “Social Justice”. Brunton laments what he sees as the substitution in many circles of "economic justice" for "charity."

Remember that I said charity is a picture of the gospel? That’s why it’s such an important practice for the Church: it demonstrates the grace of God. Now, ask yourself this: if charity is a picture of the grace of God in the gospel, then what message are we sending about the grace of God, and about the gospel, when we preach that charity is deserved? Answer: We are teaching that God’s grace is, likewise, deserved. When we teach that we owe money to the poor, we are teaching that God owed us the cross. When we teach that the poor deserve monetary assistance, we are teaching that we deserved what Christ accomplished for us. When we teach that “economic justice” consists of giving to those in need, we are teaching that divine justice consists of the same — and the inevitable result is a grace-less universalism in which everyone gets all the blessings of heaven, because they need it. You cannot pervert the meaning of justice in “society” or in the “economy,” and not expect it to bleed over into theology. You cannot have one standard of justice in Church on Sunday morning, and another for the world the rest of the week.

Well, not exactly. To begin with, Brunton's argument is missing a recognition of what Abraham Kuyper calls sphere sovereignty, one of whose implications is that justice's meaning must be qualified by context. In marriage justice requires that husband and wife be faithful to each other. In the state justice demands that government treat equitably individuals and the variety of communities of which they are part. In the classroom justice calls both instructor and students to fulfil their responsibilities relative to the educational mission that governs their relationship. So, yes, justice may mean something different in the institutional church context than in the state, the business enterprise, the school, the labour union, &c.

More seriously, Brunton risks confusing God's relationship with us on the one hand and our multifaceted relationships with each other on the other hand. God relates to us as Creator to creature, while we relate to each other as fellow creatures under God. One needs to be cautious in drawing too close an analogy between God's unmerited grace, which we do not deserve, and the creational contexts rightly ordered by the jural norms conditioning ordinary human interchange. If someone buys my house, then, once I've turned over the keys to him, he definitely owes me the amount of money we had agreed on irrespective of whether either of us has received God's saving grace.

The crucial difference here is that God is God and we are not. As his creatures, we confess that our very existence is conditional on his freely granting us life. God owes us nothing. But this is definitely not true of our relations to each other, whether in the context of ordinary economic life or in the realm of assisting the poor to fulfil their respective callings. Whether such help for the poor is deserved or unmerited must be weighed according to a variety of factors related to the norms for economic life and not by analogy to God's relationship to his people. For example, is poverty a byproduct of lack of effort? Or is economic life structured in such a way as to exclude indefinitely certain segments from its benefits? Either or both may be true. Who deserves what will depend on how we assess a variety of economic and other factors based on observation, synthesis and analysis of conditions on the ground.

What we ought not to do is pretend that a correct theology of grace will by itself give us an answer to the complexities of economic life in our society.

11 May 2017

Youth and age, energy and wisdom

The Arrogance of Rehoboam, Hans Holbein the Younger
The majority of the world’s faith traditions make much of the wisdom of age. Some eastern religions go so far as to advocate the worship of ancestors. Of course, Christians worship God alone, but Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy famously make an important place for the cult of the saints, relying on the presumed efficacy of their prayers to God for the wellbeing and salvation of the living. Nevertheless, our society and particularly our workplaces continually neglect the wisdom of age, preferring youthful enthusiasm in what can only be called a cult of the young.

The Bible has much to say about the wisdom that comes with age: “You shall rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:32). “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days” (Job 12:12). “The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. . . . They still bring forth fruit in old age” (Ps. 92:12,14). These are not just isolated proof texts. The wisdom of old age is a theme found throughout Scripture.

Moses, we learn in Exodus, was 80 years old and his brother Aaron 83 when they were called to liberate the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt (Ex. 7:7). In Canadian terms, Moses would have been eligible for his CPP pension 15 years earlier, after having laboured for more than half a century. Yet God still had work ahead for him – vastly more important than anything he had accomplished as an adopted prince of Egypt. Jews, Christians and Muslims alike regard Moses as a hero of their respective faiths, recognizing that God’s call can come even when we assume that our fruitfulness is declining or at an end.

In 1 Kings 12 we are told that, after King Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam was faced with rebellion by the northern tribes and was confronted with a stark choice: to continue the misguided policy of his father in conscripting only non-Judahites into forced labour, or to treat them more equitably. The elders in the kingdom advised him to acquiesce in the legitimate demands of the northerners: “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants for ever” (vs. 7).

But Rehoboam also consulted the young men with whom he had grown up, and they gave him different advice: “Thus shall you say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than myfather’s loins. And now, whereas my father laid upon you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions’” (vs 10-11). Rehoboam was undoubtedly impressed with the intellectual brilliance and youthful vigour of this second group of advisors in contrast to the less appealing demeanour of the first. Yet following youthful advice resulted in his losing most of the old kingdom of Israel, with only Judah and part of Benjamin remaining under his sovereignty.

Today many organizations – from churches and businesses to schools and governments – are tempted to run with the young. After all, they are less expensive, their formal education is more recent, and they are brimming with new ideas with potential benefits for all stakeholders. And, face it, the young present a fresher appearance to the outside world, ready to tackle the challenges ahead and to put aside the past. Christian organizations are not immune to the pressure to rejuvenate their images and to sideline those with more experience.

While many jurisdictions have enacted legislation prohibiting age discrimination, it is not too difficult for organizations to find ways around this. But this should not be the main issue. The fact is that no community, whatever its purpose, can afford to reinvent the wheel and to keep repeating the mistakes of the past. It is for this reason that the Bible associates wisdom with age and experience. We should too.

05 May 2017

Announcement: emeritus status

As many of you know, not quite two months ago, I was laid off from my thirty-year position at Redeemer University College due to financial constraints and programme restructuring. At the time I was told that I would not be eligible for emeritus status.

This week I was informed that the Senate and Board of Governors have approved emeritus status for me after all.

Nevertheless, I am still seeking opportunities for service in other contexts after the next academic year. I am grateful for the large numbers of people who have expressed support for me in recent weeks, and I would appreciate your continued prayers.

Thanks so much.

David Koyzis

14 April 2017

How 18th-century Virginians nearly made the United States more like Canada

James Madison
Two-hundred thirty years ago America’s founders met in Philadelphia to hammer out a new constitution that would bring the thirteen newly independent states together into an innovative kind of union: a federal union based on a separation of powers among legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. At least this is what Americans have been led to believe over the centuries.

The reality is a little more complicated, as F. H. Buckley reports in his book, The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America (Encounter Books, 2014). James Madison is often said to be one of the key architects of the Constitution of the United States, primarily because he defended it so eloquently in the Federalist Papers, a series of essays written to persuade the states to sign on to the new union. While this effort was successful, few are aware that Madison actually got little of what he had originally wanted out of the meetings held during the summer of 1787.

The majority of delegates to the constitutional convention thought the popular election of a president a very bad idea indeed. Better, they thought, to tether the chief executive to Congress, which would be responsible for putting him in office. Madison was one of a group of delegates from Virginia, arguably the most significant of the thirteen states and certainly the principal catalyst for bringing them together.

The Virginia Plan would have created a two-chamber legislature, the first chamber being directly elected by voters. The first chamber would in turn appoint the members of the second, and the two together would appoint a president, who would remain dependent on them for his power. In short, the Virginia Plan would have made the United States into a parliamentary system similar to Canada and Great Britain. Needless to say, the Virginians, including Madison, did not get their way, and we now associate Madison with a separation of powers constructed not so much out of principle as out of compromise between the larger and smaller states.

However, one element was missing from the ill-starred Virginia Plan. If, like our prime minister, the chief executive was to be dependent on Congress, the Virginians neglected to consider the need for a distinct head of state who would be counterpart to the monarch. We may think of the Queen and her representatives as ornamental fixtures in our own constitutional system, but this is not so. The principal role of the monarch is to ensure that there is always a government in place. She herself does not rule, but she must see to it that she has ministers in office capable of doing so. More significant yet, the Queen plays an essential unifying role that no mere prime minister can do. As J. R. Mallory put it, the monarchy
denies to political leaders the full splendour of their power and the excessive aggrandizement of their persons which come from the undisturbed occupancy of the centre of the stage. The symbolic value of the face of the leader on the postage stamp, the open and undisguised role of the leader and redeemer of the people, are hints of the threatened presence of the one-party state.

Indeed, as Buckley points out, the majority of countries with American-style presidential systems have gone through periods of dictatorship, and the concentration of executive power in one person makes this more likely.

By contrast, parliamentary systems with a divided executive tend disproportionately to be stable and more democratic for longer periods of time. This includes constitutional monarchies, like Britain and the Netherlands, but also parliamentary republics such as Germany, where a president serves as head of state and a chancellor as head of government.

If Madison and his fellow Virginians had had their way back in 1787, today the United States might look more like, well, us!

Principalities & Powers, Christian Courier, April 2017.

13 April 2017

Interview with Ashford

Bruce Ashford, Professor and Provost at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has posted an interview with me. Here is an excerpt on the subject of contemporary libertarianism:

Libertarianism is really an early form of liberalism that was recovered in the 20th century by the likes of Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises and others. It follows a principle articulated by John Stuart Mill in the 19th century, sometimes known as the harm principle. It runs like this: “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” Originally this was intended to apply only to the state, whose coercive power must be kept within strict bounds. From the libertarian perspective, a parliamentary body should not be legislating morality. The state makes no effort to impose and enforce social mores on the larger polity, and individuals should be granted the widest possible space for exercising their liberty. As long, of course, as they do not injure others.

However, at this latest stage in the liberal project, there has been a concerted effort to extend Mill’s harm principle into other areas of life where it does not really belong. In the real world all communities impose standards on their members, and not all of these are related to protecting them from injury or from doing harm. For example, a church congregation expects its members to confess the Christian faith and to live according to the Word of God. It further expects them to come together to worship God every week, even though their staying away for long stretches does no obvious harm to fellow members. Similarly, our daughter’s high school mandates the wearing of school uniforms. Not wearing the uniform does no evident injury to anyone, yet the school requires it all the same.

Our societies are made up of countless communities which impose on their members standards that vary from one to the next. Once the libertarian impulse has overtaken the state institution, it is difficult to limit it to the state alone. Yet if all communities were to adopt the harm principle and abandon the very standards that support their unique identity, the result would be an homogenizing of these communities. Every community, even marriage, family, church and state, becomes a mere voluntary association stripped of every claim to authoritative status. In this respect, libertarianism, which begins with a healthy suspicion of state action, ends in a kind of totalitarianism suspicious of all authorities and standards not rooted in the freely choosing wills of individuals.

Followers

Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
can be contacted at: dtkoyzis@gmail.com