Bnonn Tennant (the B is silent)

Where a recovering ex-atheist skewers things with a sharp two-edged sword

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The fruits of Two Kingdoms theology

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4 minutes to read What happens when you spend a generation insisting that God’s law is not part of God’s gospel, and that God’s gospel has nothing to do with politics—but then you still want to talk about righteousness and justice in society? You give up Moses in favor of Marx.

I’ve been following Adam Robles as he dissects the various talks given at the MLK50 conference. [See Alan’s channel on YouTube.] He does a very good job of illustrating how cultural Marxism has infiltrated the church, turning formerly faithful Christian shepherds into parodious social justice warriors.

One thing he does not talk about is why this is happening. He rightly traces the origins of the mindset on display to Marx. This is quite clear: evangelicalism has simply adopted the social theology of the left. But how did that happen, and so quickly, given that Marxism is plainly antithetical to God’s law?

I suggested to him, and he tentatively agreed, that this is an overnight success many years in the making—thanks to Two Kingdoms theology. Obviously Marxism has been weaseling its way into our cultural fabric for decades through the advances of feminism, which helped set the stage for what we’re seeing now. [ Mallory Millett, Marxist Feminism's Ruined Lives: The horror I witnessed inside the women’s “liberation” movement in Frontpage Mag (September 2014).] But I think the real engine behind capitulating to Marxism is evangelicalism’s radical Two Kingdoms theology (R2K)—something somewhat more recent in its influence than feminism.

MLK50 was co-hosted by TGC and ERLC. These organizations have long been platforms for feminism [ D. Bnonn Tennant, Evangelical complementarian leaders mostly just teaching feminism (January 2017).] and covert gyneolatry. [See for example Dalrock’s extensive archive on The Gospel Coalition’s view of intersexuality.] They have also been bastions of R2K. And they are now morphing into a platform for cultural Marxism and intersectionality. [Intersectionality is what (supposedly) happens when forms of discrimination combine, overlap, and intersect; see Word We're Watching: Intersectionality on Merriam-Webster.]

Coincidence?

How can it be, when the advantage of R2K is seen—even by its moderate critics from within—as creating a “bulwark against theonomy”? [ Kevin DeYoung, Two Kingdom Theology and Neo-Kuyperians on The Gospel Coalition (August 2009).] Theonomy is the view that the Mosaic law contains perpetual moral standards for living—including some civil laws—which remain obligatory for today. [ Dr. Joel McDurmon, Theonomy: a simple definition on The American Vision (November 2016).]

In other words, R2K rejects the law of Moses as having any interesting relevance to our modern social order. When forming our views of how society should be structured and governed, we have no need to ask how God structured and governed Israel. We have no need to wonder whether his law is perfect, reviving the soul; making wise the simple; rejoicing the heart; enlightening the eyes; enduring forever; being true and righteous altogether (Psalm 19:7–9). The fact that Israel’s law was to be a light to their neighbors surely has no bearing on whether it should be a light to ours (Deuteronomy 4:5–8). “Every good work” doesn’t include the works of “social justice” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

We only need natural law. What we know innately about God’s design is good enough. Our intuitions and inbuilt moral compasses are sufficient. The church is distinct from the civil realm, and has no authority over it, and therefore God’s law has no authority over it. Or something. This isn’t historic 2K. It’s radical, baby. Don’t ask questions.

The fruits of this doctrine are now on full display, captured in 1080p for all time as they rot on the withered tree of evangelicalism and waft their putrescence across the inter-tubes for all to savor. Our intuitions and moral compasses are conditioned by the culture we live in. And the culture we live in is now the culture of partiality: of victims and oppressors, of elect and reprobate, of imputed righteousness and guilt, all on the basis of arbitrary characteristics like skin color. It is Marx’s class warfare translated to the grievances of Western special interest groups. Contrary to the stated aims of MLK50—and it is a brazen irony indeed—this is a social theology which is always dividing and ever divisive.

We have a generation of radical Two Kingdoms teachers, who utterly reject any form of theonomy—but because they’re not illiterate, they can still detect that the Bible expects Christians to be involved in doing justice. They are convinced that the gospel is not political, and that preachers shouldn’t bring politics into the pulpit…but they’re also convinced that Christians must have something to say about righteousness.

What we’re seeing now is the confused thrashing of R2K leaders to comment on civil justice and righteousness—without bringing Moses into it. And when you abandon Moses, and all the cool, relevant people involved with “social justice” are rejoicing their hearts in Marx…well.

Marx probably wasn’t well-muscled, but it still reminds me of that scene in Riddick where he eviscerates the swamp monster and it eats its own guts.

 15 comments

steve hays

I wonder if the token complementarianism at Mortification of Spin is related to this.

Herschel Carlson

Great and insightful post!! Thank you for you work. You hit it on the nose!

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Thanks gentlemen. Steve, I would be very surprised if it weren’t. It’s hard to read the Torah without noticing how patriarchal it is, so if you have a higher view of the Torah’s place in establishing principles of social order, it’s pretty difficult to end up where people like Trueman & Co end up.

Yana

Interesting post. I saw the Alan Robles video but found it unsatisfactory. For example, I’m puzzled as to why he sees historic injustices (slavery, Jim Crow, zoning laws etc.) as having no bearing on our duty to address the inequality that has arisen as a result. A lot of these things don’t even go that far back; they happened in the lifetime of our parents and/or grandparents. How is not a matter of justice to try to attenuate the consequences of past injustice, an injustice that tends to dangerously perpetuate itself? Are we supposed to do nothing? Obviously we shouldn’t fall into the trap of doing something just to assuage our sense of guilt, regardless of the actual effects. And I’m troubled by the way that TGC et al. seem to capitalize on a sense of guilt that the gospel frees us from. If we fight racsim, we do so as freemen seeking to free others, with an abundance of grace that is much more than a guilt-ridden attempt to atone for the our sins and the sins of our ancestors.

You mentioned patriarchy and gender differences. Things like the pay gap etc., are much more easily explained by women’s fertility and other secondary gender charactertics that tend towards certain types of professions (people-oriented vs. thing-oriented). When speaking of race, these kinds of explanations really fall short, unless one is willing to essentialize some type of racial difference, like the racists who will say blacks are inherently violent, etc. Appealing to cultural differences also doesn’t get you off the hook, because culture doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and because changing a culture might also be a matter of justice (for example pederastic rape cultures in parts of the Middle East and possibly India).

Your broader point about theonomy and R2k is good, though. While I wouldn’t consider myself a theonomist, it is true that a kind of political theology that draws almost exclusively upon extra-biblical reasoning is dangerous. Governance is largely a matter of wisdim and prudence rather than hard and fast principles, but wisdom of course must be informed by the scriptures.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Hey Yana, I can’t really speak for Adam, but perhaps he will respond here. For my own part, I didn’t at all take him to suggest we are not responsible for addressing inequality; rather, that we are responsible for addressing inequality only when it is unjust. Since inequality is not ipso facto unjust, a mere appeal to it, absent further argument, should have no force. The Bible doesn’t define injustice in terms of inequality; it defines it terms of acting against our neighbor through partiality, envy, hatred etc.

I’d want to know exactly what past injustice is being dangerously perpetuated, and see the evidence for that—established by two or three witnesses, and diligently inquired into. If it is some kind of wage gap between blacks and whites, I am prima facie extremely skeptical that this is due to systemic racism. Is the charge here that whites are the ones holding all the cards, and that they are simply not hiring blacks; and/or, that when they do they pay them less? That seems very implausible on the face of it. How could we even prove that? No doubt it might happen in some situations where you’ve got a racist HR manager or CEO or something, but on a systemic level? That’s honestly very incredible to me.

It also fails to explain the rampant success of Asians in America, who earn more than whites. Is that because Asians are holding even more cards than whites, and are advantaging other Asians over whites and blacks (and Latinos and everyone else)? Obviously not. Is it then because whites like Asians more than they like other whites? How does that work—do we have whites who hate blacks but love Asians? I haven’t met many racists, but the ones who are racist enough to base hiring policy on their prejudices tend to be white supremacists who would avoid any other race, so psychologically this makes no sense.

I think you’re on the right track blaming culture, and it’s certainly true that changing a wicked culture is a matter of justice. Black culture suffers terribly from promiscuity, abortion, divorce and fatherlessness; far more so than white culture does. These things are direct predictors of criminality and poverty. So I agree with you that something should be done; but it isn’t showing partiality to blacks through affirmative action, or giving them handouts stolen from the earnings of other hard-working people. It is holding them to the same standard that God holds everyone to, and preaching God’s gospel to them—including God’s law.

If there is something we need to repent of as a collective, it is not some imaginary sins against blacks, but the real sins of complicity in following after Baal. Instead of preaching God’s will to the lost, we’ve been busily involved in keeping our heads down publicly, while virtue-signaling behind closed doors. And that’s not just TGC; we’ve been doing it since the turn of the 20th century. No-fault divorce, the abortion holocaust, gender-bending and the now-open persecution of Christians would probably not even have happened if God’s people had had leaders who preached a muscular gospel of submission to the rulership of Jesus, rather than a servile gospel of personal moral restoration. We need more people getting together and thinking about how we can turn back from this sin, how we can coordinate to better preach the full gospel, and less of the simpering accommodation to the kingdom of darkness that was on display at MLK50.

Yana

Thanks for the response, Bnonn.

I think you are viewing the systemic issues as framed by personal malice towards black people – like an racist employer not wanting to hire them. I mean something rather different. For example, one reason why black people earn less is that they are less educated (as a group) than white people. Historically, black people have been denied many kinds of education (especially college) that white people haven’t. And since the children of educated parents are more likely to get an education, that initial disparity tends to reproduce itself. Education also becomes associated with whiteness and selling out to white people, so that becomes a cultural barrier. Affirmative action is something that seeks to break this cycle.

With regards to fatherlessness, promiscuity, etc. – this is one area where things have gotten a lot worse for black people especially, because the disintegration of marriage tends to hit the most socially vulnerable first. You see a similar pattern with poor Appalachian whites.

I don’t think you can just equivocate Asians and blacks as as essentially the same type of minority. They aren’t commensurable. The history of the black community in the US is entirely different from the history if the Asian community. Black people were brought in as slaves, Asians willingly immigrated. Asians were subjected to a fair amount of oppression, though not on the same scale as black people, but they made it through because if their particular cultural commitments. Now think about how much slavery was about deliberately using methods like mingling different tribes in order to prevent a robust culture. That’s not the same as Asians, who had their own communities like Chinatown.

Some specific examples of discrimination are: blacks 2 times more likely to be arrested for drug use, although blacks and whites use drugs at essentially the same rate, people with black-sounding names less likely to get hired, blacks receiving harsher sentencing for the same crimes, blacks with criminal record less likely to get hired than whites with criminal record, etc. There’s the issue that neutral laws are sometimes enforced in racist ways.

I think there is a case to be made that particular solutions are needed to help black communities. People don’t exist in a vacuum, and when preaching the gospel we take specifics into account by exercising wisdom. I don’t think we should be dismissive about these things. I probably haven’t provided an account that is intellectually satisfying, but my point is that perhaps, instead of responding with radical skepticism, we should engange with and investigate the claims that our black brothers and sisters are making. But that needs to happen within the larger context of the church and the preaching of the gospel and advocating for broader cultural and societal changes that reflect biblical priorities. The whole communal repentance thing seeks to recognize the ways in which whites as a group have historically benefitted at the expense of blacks, and that the cultural, social and economic captal thus acquired still benefits white people today, because this capital is largely inherited. It’s impossible to thread out the specifics here, but the broader point still stands. Repentance, however, is less about hand-wringing than actually going into black communities, preaching the gospel, teaching obedience, volunteering, etc. Too much talk, not enough action on the part of a lot of these TGC type advocates.

Gloria Urban

Thanks Bonn. I hadn’t even heard of MLK50. It seems that sometimes I live in this bubble and when my eyes get opened, I am shocked that people are responding with great thought to an event that I totally missed. There is so much going on, I am glad someone is watching. I liked Alan Nobles response. Bless you.

Gloria Urban

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Hey Yana, with regards to those statistics, I’d want to know more about their origins before accepting them. I’ve seen all kinds of dishonest figures manufactured by studies. Moreover, if they’re accurate, I’d want to see the evidence that partiality is really in play here rather than some other confounding factors—and if so, that the partiality is a result of racism. For instance, from memory, I’ve seen apparently valid stats showing that white men are shot by police about twice as often as black men, and that black cops shoot black men more often than white cops do. It seems questionable to attribute these figures to racism, but then why should I automatically assume that other figures reflect race bias just because they favor whites rather than blacks? That’s just interpreting figures according to a preconceived narrative of oppression, which if nothing else is bad hermeneutics!

With regard to affirmative action, it’s difficult for me to reply straightforwardly because of the confounding factor of state education. The government does not have a legitimate role in education according to God’s law; neither do parents have a legitimate option of outsourcing this to the state. So parental abdication, plus governmental appropriation, of this authority equals a doubly unlawful state of affairs. Even if affirmative action were valid, you shouldn’t be building it on a foundation of mud.

That said, why should we think that the answer to the effects of white injustice to blacks should be for whites to now act unjustly towards whites? I assume you’d agree that we can’t solve black poverty by taking money from whites and giving it to them. We know from studying welfare states, if nothing else, that this doesn’t actually solve the problem; it rather aggravates resentment on the affluent side, and dependence on the other—as well as unforgiveness in pursuit of entitlement. But then why should we think that the same welfare solution applied to education is a good idea? You don’t solve the problem of uneducated blacks by taking scholarships or grants earned by whites, and giving them to blacks who don’t merit them. Socialism is wicked when applied to education too.

Given my views on state education and welfare, I would say the answer to both black poverty and black education lies with individuals and assemblies. We should be involved in charitable work, feeding and educating the needy and helpless. But we shouldn’t be doing that in advance of the gospel; it should be mop-up after the gospel. Most problems of poverty and education can be solved by the very people these things affect, by simply believing and obeying God’s word; we should be reserving charitable efforts for those who truly can’t help themselves (cf. 1 Tim. 5 etc).

Yana

Hey Adam (NOT Alan, sorry about that), I’ll take a look at those videos. Thanks for taking the time to respond. I’m really encouraged by your humble attitude.

Hey Bnonn, I see where you’re coming from. Maybe sometime I’ll do the research and give a reliable breakdown of the statistics, but I’m not really up for the task right now. At some level, it’s not really my business, as I’m not American, so I would rather use my time doing something similar to understand and alleviate racism where I live.

I’m intrigued by your assertion that government schooling isn’t a legitimate option. Where does the Bible specifically address anything like modern-day education? Education in a mostly illiterate, agrarian society where professions where inherited was very different. Would you be okay with public schools on a municipal level? Why can’t people from a town/municipality come together to fund a school for everyone’s kids? Honestly I think the best option is church-run schools, like Catholic schools, but most Protestant churches/denominations don’t really have the institutional wherewithal to make that happen. And homeschooling or private school isn’t financially or intellectually feasible for everyone.

Also, the context of affirmative action is the university. I mean, parents can’t give their adult children university-level education. And Christian colleges don’t exist everywhere and often don’t offer certain degrees.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Hey Yana, I’m in the same boat as you: I have no personal investment in America, but I do pay fairly close attention to it because it’s so influential with regard to what happens here in New Zealand. Plus it’s hard to avoid the American situation given that most of the theologians I follow live there ;p

With regard to schooling, that’s probably a post for another time, but the fundamental question is less about the Bible addressing education (modern or otherwise) and more about it addressing what the state is for. We as Westerners are inured to a truly expansive view of the state, which I think is largely the result of taking the imperial mindset of ancient Rome and marrying it to the nanny mindset of Marx. The result is something that most Christians think is perfectly reasonable and just, even though it is so far wide of the biblical view that “monstrous abomination” barely begins to describe it.

Even when we agree that Scripture has something important to say here, we often still look to the monarchy of Israel (whence cometh taxes, top-down governance etc). But that wasn’t how God originally set things up, and indeed it was a curse upon Israel (taxes are specifically mentioned as one of the curses that would arise from their desire to be like the other nations). Originally, governance was very distributed, very democratic, and very community-oriented. And its key function was ensuring justice; there were no other reasons for it.

I agree with you that church-run schools are a good idea. Homeschooling is better, being both more in line with the familial approach you see in Scripture, and producing better results—thought at higher levels it needs to be augmented with “pooled” education from experts in the community. I somewhat disagree that homeschooling isn’t financially or intellectually feasible, only in the sense that people say that without really looking into it, or reading testimonies of parents who have done it on shoestring budgets and poor educations themselves.

With regard to affirmative action, I’d still need to see some compelling argument for how discriminating against those who earn something for the sake of those who don’t can possibly be a good way of solving injustice.

Yana

Hey Bnonn. You’re right about the importance and influence of America, so I dodged the question of statiatics rather unfairly. :P I just can’t be bothered – and too often that’s the real problem in these debates, haha.

I think this question rightly boiled down the nature and role of governments. I agree that subsidiarity is a good thing, and power should be decentralized as much as possible, but I’m skeptical of trying to recreate the kind of society that existed in ancient Israel. Different material conditions and economic systems reasonably call for renegotiation of government’s role. For example, the Israelite system was based on distributing and periodically redistributing allotted land to certain tribes. In the jubilee year, capital would be taken from some rich people and returned to poorer families who had had to sell it. I’m not sure how theonomists square that with their libertarian views that see property rights as ultimate. There is also the question of whether the way the market distributes capital is necessarily just in the first place. You assume this, so any state redistribution is problematized. I don’t think it’s that straightforward.

I’m not really advocating for anything in particular, since my own political views aren’t really worked out yet, but I want to push back against certain assumptions. Also, biblically, governance is a matter of wisdom and judgment, so there are no one-size-fits-all solutions to any problem. More broadly, I don’t think there *are* solutions to most political problems, only trade-offs that need to be negotiated.

With regards to affirmative action, maybe I’ll try to make a more solid case for it later. And maybe I’ll find out that there isn’t one :)