Arnold van Ruler

An email list I am on brought up Arnold van Ruler, a theologian that I was not familiar with. I looked him up and found this book review by Randall E. Otto in the WTJ 53:1 (Spring 1991):

Arnold A. van Ruler: Calvinist Trinitarianism and Theocentric Politics. Trans. John Bolt. (Toronto Studies in Theology 38.) Lewiston, NY: Mellen, 1989. xliv, 228. $59.95.
This volume is comprised of eight key essays dating from 1947 by the Dutch theologian Arnold A. van Ruler, essays that until now have not been accessible to the English-speaking audience. Together with the translator’s very helpful introductory survey of the background and context of van Ruler’s theocentric vision, these essays provide the first comprehensive English introduction to van Ruler’s theology.
Although he started out as a Barthian, van Ruler soon concluded that Barth’s view of the world was too Christomonistic. The important first essay, “The Necessity of a Trinitarian Theology,” encapsulates the central themes of van Ruler’s perspective.

Jesus Christ is not all that there is and the preaching of the gospel is not all that there is. We humans and worldly reality also exist; culture and historical processes exist as well. And each of these has its own independence and its own significance. But, in the Christian faith, this cannot be understood christologically but only in a trinitarian way. [P. 14] 

Going beyond the “gnostic solution of soteriologizing the entire world, and its consequence, namely, the irreconcilable conflict between the church and the world” (p. 19), van Ruler contends that the trinitarian and plural character of the Reformed churches best equips them for the ecumenical task mandated by Christ, Scripture, and tradition to call forth the kingdom. Emphasizing particularly the “impoverished” pneumatological area of theology, van Ruler maintains, “it is these [Reformed] churches whose polity is built on the conviction that dialogue is the means by which the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth” (p. 16), perhaps even to the resolution of the conflict between Rome and the Reformation. Van Ruler does well to remind us that “the church of the Reformation is the reformed catholic church…. To be Reformed means to be, or at least to strive to be, truly and fully catholic” (p. 6).
In the essays “Structural Differences Between the Christological and Pneumatological Perspectives” and “Grammar of Pneumatology” van Ruler explores key distinctions to be made in regard to the person and work of the Christ and the Spirit, respectively. The mystical union with Christ is not the ultimate and real goal of the Christian religion, but rather the indispensable means utilized by the Spirit for obtaining the true goal: “the goal is the kingdom of God and experiencing the world as the kingdom” (p. 53). “The ultimate goal of all things thus does not lie in participating in the immanent-trinitarian life of God, but in the realization of genuine creaturely existence and being before the face of God in accordance with his will” (pp. 71-72). Hence, van Ruler contends in contradiction to standard Reformed presentations, Rome has not taught too much synergism, but too little, for it has not given adequate consideration to the work of the Holy Spirit in humanity, whereby “the entire business of God is placed in our hands and becomes our business, in our consciousness, our decision, our act, our prayer, and in our accountability in the last judgment” (p. 73). The meaning of the world for God thus goes beyond soteriology to protology and eschatology. Sanctification—life lived before God’s face, horizontally, in time—not forgiveness, is, according to van Ruler, the biblical-reformational view of the meaning of the world. This perspective issues in an alteration in emphasis regarding the cross of Christ. “This atoning sacrifice finds its meaning not in sacrifice as such, and not even in atonement as such (i.e., the removal of guilt between God and humanity), but in God’s justice. We are thus directed to its meaning for human life” (p. 110). The essay “Christ Taking Form in the World” culminates with a discussion of the theocracy van Ruler envisions. “Theocracy is the ordering and configuration (Gestaltung) of the life of the state from the perspective of Christ, the gospel, and the Word of God” (p. 121). This does not mean that one devises a theory of the state or even a program for political action from the Bible; rather, it summons government in its creation of laws, ruling, and administration of justice to understand itself from within the biblical conception of life and community. Far from the absolutism seemingly inherent in the theonomy movement, theocracy is the only means whereby the ideal of toleration can be maintained, as van Ruler points out in the essay “Theocracy and Toleration.”
With his emphases on the Trinity and the kingdom, eschatology and this-worldliness, dialogue and the impossibility of absolute certainty or unity, it is easy to see how someone like the liberationist theoretician Järgen Moltmann could have found so much capital in van Ruler on which to build (see M. Douglas Meeks, Origins of the Theology of Hope [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974] 24-25, 97–99). The resemblances in van Ruler to secular theology are, however, “superficial,” as Bolt makes clear in his introduction (pp. xi-xiv). In point of fact, van Ruler saw in Karl Barth’s dismissal of the significance of history, his critique of all Christianization, and his rejection of infant baptism a devaluation of the world to a mere theater on which the drama of the covenant of grace is performed. It was Barth, van Ruler declared, who was to blame for the growth of secular and revolutionary theology. “By failing clearly to distinguish salvation and creation, church and world, by merging salvific and ontic reality into one christocentric perspective, Barth paved the way for the particularity of grace disappearing into the universality of the world process” (p. xxxvii).
For van Ruler, Bonhoeffer’s religionlessness is the exact opposite of maturity, for maturity requires judgment, which requires metaphysics, ontology, and, foundationally, religion.

Through regeneration and conversion, in the purification of one’s heart and the sanctification of one’s life, one discovers not only Christ and God, but above all, also oneself and the world. Apart from Christ and the Spirit, apart from God, culture and the state are not genuine possibilities…. Even such generally human questions as those of epistemology, questions about how we can know the world, ourselves and thus truth, cannot be resolved apart from the presuppositions of the Christian faith. [P. 86] 

“Reason is only genuinely reason when it not only becomes aware of the Word of God, but when it knows with (conscientia) God about itself, about rational humanity, and about all things” (p. 139).
Founded in historic Calvinism and its dual emphasis on predestination and the work of the Spirit, van Ruler’s kingdom vision nonetheless acknowledges more fully the mutuality missing in much of Reformed theology, a lack which has come powerfully to the fore in recent social reconstructions of God.

All reality is, of course, the work of God, and as such it is placed in our hands and becomes human work…. As human beings are made responsible for God’s work, that is to say, we are called to such a responsibility (it is not simply given in our existence). God desires to discuss everything with us, everything that he has done with the world—which belongs to God! [P. 145]

Hence, for van Ruler, Immanuel (“God with us”) and Christianization are merely the means toward the ultimate goal of the realization of humanity as human beings before God. We are Christians to be humans, not humans to be Christians. This vantage point permits a much greater appreciation of the life to be lived from the purpose of creation to its eschatological consummation and is a perspective from which Reformed theology can make significant gains in its ecumenical and missionary efforts.

Ligon Duncan Amongst the Miscreants

About a decade ago, Ligon Duncan attacked a swath of evangelicals who “fell” for the New Perspective on Paul. He said:

Second, there are evangelicals who are social conservatives but who are bent on Christianity expressing itself societally. Among these are theonomists, reconstructionists, “ex-theonomists and reconstructionists” and other miscreants. It is amazing how quick they are to discard reformational soteriological teaching in order to advance their neo-sacerdotalism, kingdom ecclesiology/eschatology, and dreams of Christendom.

This claim of his was uncharitable, ill-informed and wrong. The word “miscreant” means “a wretch; a villain.” Presumably, he thought throwing this word around was funny, as he used it again in a footnote: “The Eschatological Aspect of Justification by James T. Dennison, Jr (formerly of WTS-California), is a short lecture on Romans 4:25, published in Kerux, criticizing Sanders, Dunn, and various other miscreants.”
Who did Duncan have in mind with this ridiculous term? Probably men like Peter Leithart, James Jordan, Mark Horne, Rich Lusk and Joel Garver, who at that time had interacted with Wright’s work to varying degrees. Rich Lusk had this to say of Duncan’s charge:

Duncan barely even engages the mass of evidence that we put together to support our interpretation of Calvin’s high sacramental theology. He lists perceived errors, but never shows in detail how these are our errors or why our interpretation of the Reformed tradition is off-base. More than that, though, I must ask why Duncan thinks these students of Reformed theology are not worthy of respectful, loving interaction. Elsewhere, Duncan has referred to a similar group of Presbyterian pastors and scholars as “miscreants” (see his essay, “The Attractions of New Perspective(s) on Paul”). Those of us on the receiving end of Duncan’s attacks do not feel like he has adequately understood our views or accurately stated what we believe. But surely this is because he has determined from the outset to give us an unsympathetic reading. Why should anyone trust an interpretation that is so admittedly biased? Personally, I would like to know why Duncan thinks Joel Garver and Peter Leithart (to take two examples) are impious scholars. I’d like to know why he finds their theological work less than substantial. Surely it cannot be because these men present themselves in an arrogant, haughty fashion. Anyone who knows them would laugh at the charges. Surely it is not because they lack serious academic credentials. They both have doctorates from top flight institutions. I could further speculate as to Duncan’s motivations, but love restrains me.

A little later, during an interview with Mark Dever at a Sovereign Grace conference, Duncan lobbed some more shells at N.T. Wright, accusing him of Socinianism and saying:

So there is a doctrine of Scripture problem, I would assert, that underlies Dunn’s doctrine of justification problem. You can see this same kind of thing, actually, in N. T. Wright’s when he articulates his philosophy of knowledge. Wright’s epistemology is very much indebted to some 20th century epistemological thinking that I think, in my view, buttresses a Kantian relativism and an unknowing of the noumenal and hence a reductionism. So I think that once again you see how things will go back to a faulty doctrine of scripture.

Wright himself responded to this, writing:

Thanks again. I’ve read it through and it’s a sad and sorry thing of course… he simply hasn’t heard the question, hasn’t taken the trouble to read what I say in the light of what Paul says. Actually the view he describes me holding towards the end of his piece – a remarkable little outburst! – is quite close to the reformed view which he seems not to know much about either. On scripture and epistemology, it’s remarkable how he can wave his arms around and say `Kant – relativism — reductionism’ as though that proves anything (and as though it’s accurate!). And then, when he reads the text, isn’t it interesting that he stops at verse 28? Had he gone on (`Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not of Gentiles also… etc’) he might have been forced, by attention to the text he so reveres, to reconsider whether there is, to put it mildly, something missing in his exegesis of the passage to which that is the proper conclusion.

Fast forward to today: Lig is now best buddies with a group of pastors that include C.J. Mahaney, who is accused of some serious cover ups of sexual abuse. Furthermore, Mahaney admitted to blackmailing a former pastoral colleague of his. You might say that these actions could make one a miscreant. And yet, these very serious offenses have not caused Ligon’s faith in Mahaney to waver:

A Christian leader, charged with any credible, serious, and direct wrongdoing, would usually be well advised to step down from public ministry. We believe this lawsuit failed that test.  For this reason, we, along with many others, refused to step away from C. J. in any way. We do not regret that decision. We are profoundly thankful for C. J. as friend, and we are equally thankful for the vast influence for good he has been among so many Gospel-minded people.

Note that this doesn’t in any way address the previous blackmail that Mahaney admitted to. My belief is that the measure that Ligon used to judge Wright and all the other “ex-theonomists” is now coming back on his own head as he stands by an ethically compromised leader due to being part of a movement that has provided him with visibility and celebrity. It would be wise for him to reassess both his attitude towards Mahaney and his previous rash statements towards a group of men with whom he disagreed theologically, but branded with a wildly out of proportion term.

UPDATE: I have Duncan’s SGM presentation paper here.

Looking at Worthen Looking at Wilson

Philip Sasser reflects on Molly Worthen’s coverage of (among others) Doug Wilson here. Worthen is writing a book and I believe it will include information akin to her previous coverage of men like Doug Wilson and Al Mohler. She seems to be one of the few liberals capable of calmly trying to understand Van Tillian Reformed Christians, and she writes well. Although her own presuppositions and commitments are flawed, I respect her. Sasser writes:

In doing this, she has the alarming habit of writing about figures in Protestant America that actually matter, and appears to understand different between influence and fame. There is thankfully little mention of Joel Osteen, Pat Robertson, or Rick Warren in her pieces, except as an occasional foil for the rabble-rousers she prefers to write about. But I say that this habit is alarming, because the sensation of flipping through the New York Times Sunday magazine and finding a long essay on pastor-provocateur Doug Wilson is a little like having a relaxing wedding reception interrupted by the sound of your drunk uncle coughing into the toasting microphone. Sure, he’s your uncle and, when sober, he’s even a good uncle. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to do anyone a lick of good by getting behind the microphone. Molly Worthen knows where all of evangelicalism’s crazy uncles are, drunk and otherwise.There is a smirk to some of her descriptions of these men, but when we talk on the phone, she has nothing but kind things to say about the subjects of her writing (“Even those with abominable views have been, to a person, charming,” she told me) and she assures me that she believes their scholarship and engagement with the texts they study to be sincere and intelligent. If anything, she merely wonders if the enthusiasm of some of their students will be misconstrued and ultimately limiting in a post-academic world unappreciative of cowls and after lunch pipe breaks.  It isn’t just that there are lots of evangelicals in the South, though, that makes Worthen’s observations relevant, here, but that her essays portray an evangelical culture that relates to the dominant culture in a way that resembles the South’s historical relationship to it. Both live marginal kinds of existences, with all the attendant self-doubt and self-justifying that accompanies that apparent provincialism, and both look back to some earlier time when the wider culture was kinder to their values. Both the South and the evangelical movement see themselves as the deposed kings and defenders of civilization. The fiercer among them see themselves as the future kings of civilization, too. 

Between Babel and Beast

Between Babel and Beast is Peter Leithart’s newest book, this time on the subject of American Empire. My copy is on the way. I just read a review from Roger Olson, a man who is probably not at all sympathetic with Leithart’s theological positions, but hear what he says:

If Leithart were not who he is, a theologically conservative American Protestant (and possibly some kind of Christian Reconstructionist), he would be labeled (by Religious Right types and conservative evangelicals in general) a liberal liberationist critic America and dismissed as a “leftist.” Of course, he’s not that. But many of his criticisms of America echo ones found in the literature of Latin American liberation theologians. For example, he gives numerous examples of instances in which America has contributed to the overthrow (often violent) of democratically elected Latin American governments solely to protect “American interests” (viz., the interests of large American corporations). He doesn’t just throw these charges out there without supportive detail. Read the book.


Of all the books I have read in the past several years, this one strikes a chord with me most strongly. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. Get it and read it. Let it speak to you. Share it with someone you know who believes in “American exceptionalism.”

I don’t know if Leithart is a prophet in the same category as Isaiah or Amos or John the Baptist (or Gregory of Nyssa or Chrysostom), but this book is prophetic. It (especially Parts II and III) ought to be required reading in every American church and Christian organization.

I think this will be a great follow up to Against Christianity and Defending Constantine.

Julie Ingersoll: Wrong on Cameron

In her latest argument free column, Julie Ingersoll tells us that Kirk Cameron is “…increasingly connected to Christian Reconstruction and dominion theology.” She says this due to guilt by association and Cameron’s apparent embrace of postmillenialism. If she is going to assert that postmillenialism equals Reconstruction, then the list of Reconstructionists would grow large and stretch back through time. But she doesn’t tell us how he two positions, one which is eschatological, the other which is largely legal, are one in the same. She just connects some dots, asserts some things and assumes that it is all bad and scary. Par for the course.

Reconstructionism as a movement is largely dead, having passed from the scene with the death of Bahnsen and Rushdoony. Ideas connected to Reconstruction are still alive here and there, and are largely related to Christendom and an embrace of the entire Bible. But you would think that it is 1992 if you read Ingersoll. And even then, the percentage of Christians who embraced it (sadly) was never more than a few thousand.

Ingersoll never explains why her worldview is correct, she simply assumes that we agree with her. She is preaching to the choir, not engaging in argument.

Julie Ingersoll Columns – Argument Free

Over at “Religion Dispatches”, a leftist site devoted to attacking Orthodox Christendom, Julie Ingersoll regularly posts on the horrors of a nascent Christian Reconstructionist movement, never mind that it largely passed out of existence a decade ago. The thing about her columns is that they are generally argument free. She just states things like:

In Rushdoony’s vision, the single most important tool for transforming the whole of culture to conform to biblical law (i.e. the exercise of dominion), was to replace public education with biblical education. The decades since have brought the rise of the Christian school and the Christian homeschool movements, both of which are rooted philosophically and even legally in Rushdoony’s work. A handful of Christian Reconstructionist writers who came after Rushdoony laid out detailed strategies to build a “biblical” system responsible only to parents, convince Christians that they are being disobedient to God if they send their children to government schools, and gradually choke off funding for alternatives that are public and/or secular.

And doesn’t offer any arguments as to why this is wrong. Her worldview is so totalizing and assumed to the readership that she needn’t even advocate as to why someone should believe what she says. In other words, what is wrong with Biblical law? Why should Christian parents send their kids to government schools? Ingersoll won’t tell you, it’s just a “duh” thing. With “arguments” like this, you can see how bankrupt the Apostate left really is.

Antithesis and Credenda

At the beginning of the 1990’s a magazine called Antithesis was published by Covenant Community Church of Orange County (OPC). It was only published for two years. The masthead included Douglas Jones as the Editor, with men like David Hagopian and Greg Bahnsen as Senior Editors. Bahnsen’s influence on the magazine was apparent as it featured presuppositional reasoning throughout its articles.Over the short period that it was in print, Douglas Wilson and Wesley Callihan from Moscow, ID, were added as Contributing Editors. The final issue was published in July/August of 1991. I am not sure how Wilson came to the attention of Jones at that early time.

Wilson started publishing Credenda/Agenda in 1989 with a series of short papers, which became the basis of the book “Easy Chairs, Hard Words.” By Volume 5, Number 1 of Credenda, Doug Jones was contributing to the magazine and was soon the Managing Editor. This was probably in about 1992-93. The format of Credenda then began to mirror what Antithesis had been to a large degree, with debates, cultural commentary and a Van Tillian emphasis. I would contend that Moscow thus inherited and reunified the streams of thought that had diverged in the 1980’s with the conflicts between Rushdoony, Bahnsen and the Jordan/North wing of theonomy. Moscow was influenced by all of those folks.

Foundational Thinkers

In the theological circles that I identify with there are many streams of thought which converge in the current conversation. I would like to briefly identify some of the great thinkers, past and present, who define that conversation.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

Eugen Rosentstock Huessy (ERH) was a German Christian thinker. Peter Leithart discusses him in this article, which I will quote here.

The scope of his life’s work is impressively unclassifiable. He disdained the disciplinary confinements of the modern university, and the disdain shows. He wrote on language, religion and the Bible, calendars, time, and grammar. He published a massive history of the Western revolution and a three-volume Soziologie, as well as a monograph on his academic specialty, medieval German legal history. When he came to America, he took a chair in German language and culture at Harvard, but he could have taught sociology, law, philosophy, comparative religion, or any of a half dozen other disciplines. Harvard didn’t know what to do with him. Since he talked a lot about God, they sent him to the divinity school.

Openly orthodox, Rosenstock-Huessy was also a remarkably progressive thinker, embodying what Chesterton, one of Rosenstock-Huessy’s favorite authors, described as the adventure of orthodoxy. This is evident particularly in his meditations on time, and the fundamental temporal orientation of his work. He observed that institutions, ideas, and systems have their day—and then something new is needed: “Philosophies have their time. It is a misunderstanding to attribute a perennial character to any particular philosophy. Philosophy is the expression of a zeitgeist. Philosophies must be buried at the right time. The Jesuits know that Thomism is dead.” He spoke of the world entering a “Johannine” age of history, an age of the Spirit that would move quite differently from the earlier ages of the Church: “each generation has to act differently precisely in order to represent the same thing. Only so can each become a full partner in the process of Making Man.”

I have not read ERH myself, but need to and hope to find the time to in the future.

René Girard

Rene Girard is a French philosopher famed for his theory of “mimetic rivalry” and his discussion of the scapegoat mechanism in society. Perhaps a portion of this interview will serve to summarize his views:

NPQ: Is Christianity superior to other religions?

Girard: Yes. All of my work has been an effort to show that Christianity is superior and not just another mythology. In mythology, a furious mob mobilizes against scapegoats held responsible for some huge crisis. The sacrifice of the guilty victim through collective violence ends the crisis and founds a new order ordained by the divine. Violence and scapegoating are always present in the mythological definition of the divine itself.

It is true that the structure of the Gospels is similar to that of mythology in which a crisis is resolved through a single victim who unites everybody against him, thus reconciling the community. As the Greeks thought, the shock of death of the victim brings about a catharsis that reconciles. It extinguishes the appetite for violence. For the Greeks, the tragic death of the hero enabled ordinary people to go back to their peaceful lives.

However, in this case, the victim is innocent and the victimizers are guilty. Collective violence against the scapegoat as a sacred, founding act is revealed as a lie. Christ redeems the victimizers through enduring his suffering, imploring God to “forgive them for they know not what they do.” He refuses to plead to God to avenge his victimhood with reciprocal violence. Rather, he turns the other cheek.

The victory of the Cross is a victory of love against the scapegoating cycle of violence. It punctures the idea that hatred is a sacred duty.

I have his book “Violence and the Sacred” but have not read it yet.

Cornelius Van Til

Finally, there is the great Cornelius Van Til. Van Til is well-known for being a pioneer of presuppositional apologetics and the transcendental argument for the existence of God. He stressed the antithesis between the believer and the non-believer. Van Til said this of his own method:

My understanding of the relationship between Christian and non-Christian, philosophically speaking.
1. Both have presuppositions about the nature of reality:
a. The Christian presupposes the triune God and his redemptive plan for the universe as set forth once for all in Scripture.
b. The non-Christian presupposes a dialectic between “chance” and “regularity,” the former accounting for the origin of matter and life, the latter accounting for the current success of the scientific enterprise.
2. Neither can, as finite beings, by means of logic as such, say what reality must be or cannot be.
a. The Christian, therefore, attempts to understand his world through the observation and logical ordering of facts in self-conscious subjection to the plan of the self attesting Christ of Scripture.
b. The non-Christian, while attempting an enterprise similar to the Christian’s, attempts nevertheless to use “logic” to destroy the Christian position. On the one hand, appealing to the non- rationality of “matter,” he says that the chance- character of “facts” is conclusive evidence against the Christian position. Then, on the other hand, he maintains like Parmenides that the Christian story cannot possibly be true. Man must be autonomous, “logic” must be legislative as to the field of “possibility” and possibility must be above God.



Against Antinomianism

A central characteristic of the churches and of modern preaching and Biblical teaching is antinomianism, an anti-law position. The antinomian believes that faith frees the Christian from the law, so that he is not outside the law but is rather dead to the law. There is no warrant whatsoever in Scripture for antinomianism. The expression, “dead to the law,” is indeed in Scripture (Gal. 2:9; Rom. 7.4), but it has reference to the believer in relationship to the atoning work of Christ as the believer’s representative and substitute; the believer is dead to the law an an indictment, a legal sentence of death against him, Christ having died for him, but the believer is alive to the law as the righteousness of God.

– R.J. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, 2-3