A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: Augustine’s Two Cities

Read the Introduction here.

 

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Augustine wrote City of God as an apologetic in response to those who were crediting Christians with the downfall of Rome. They argued that Christianity as a religion weakens cultures and makes them susceptible to overthrow by foreign powers. Augustine argued to the contrary that, whereas faithful commitment to the God of Scripture has always brought about flourishing in particular cultures, increased rebellion against Him has always resulted in their downfall. Within these cultures, Augustine recognized that there were two types of citizens: those of the City of God and those of the City of Man (also known as the city of this world or the earthly city).

A Necessary Dichotomy

Augustine distinguished the City of God from the City of Man. These two cities are organized societies with citizens who are respectively distinguished by the standards by which they live. Citizens of the City of Man live by the standard of the flesh, whereas citizens of the City of God live by the Spirit (cf. Galatians 5:13-26). Augustine emphasizes that what ultimately distinguishes the two cities are their loves: “We see then that the two cities were created by two kinds of love: the earthly city was created by self-love reaching the point of contempt for God, the Heavenly City by the love of God carried as far as contempt of self.” (Book 14, Chapter 28).

It’s important to emphasize that, for Augustine, there is no dual citizenship – in other words, each individual member is a member of one city, and one city only. Augustine reiterated Jesus’ teaching that while Christians live in the City of Man, they do not belong to the City of Man (cf. John 18:36). Their presence in the earthly city is like that of strangers sojourning in a foreign country (cf. 1 Peter 1:1-2). The City of Man is not our true home; rather, our citizenship is in heaven (cf. Philippians 3:20) and it is to that Heavenly City that we owe our affections and our ultimate loyalty.

As some have rightly observed, Christians are in a very similar situation to that of the church during the period of the Assyrian Dispersion and the Babylonian Exile. We remain citizens of Zion while we sojourn in a foreign land and seek, in our occupations and conversations, to enable flourishing, both our own and that of those around us. As part of our goal to aid in the flourishing of the land shared by these two competing cities, the City of God necessarily speaks the truth in boldness when addressing the City of Man.

Augustine’s Critique Centered on Virtue

Some have interpreted Augustine’s words as a justification for the withdrawal of Christians (and a Christian worldview) from the civil and political sphere of society, but this would be a misreading of Augustine. Augustine strongly believed that the blessedness of civic life would be enhanced if the majority were to hear and embrace the Christian precepts of justice and moral virtue. Consider the words of Augustine in Book II, Chapter 19 of The City of God:

If ‘the kings of the earth and all nations, princes and all the judges of the earth, young men and maidens, old men and children’ [Psalm 148.11f.], people of every age and each sex; if those to whom John the Baptist spoke, even the tax gatherers and the soldiers [Luke 3.12f.]: if all these together were to hear and embrace the Christian precepts of justice and moral virtue, then would the commonwealth adorn its lands with happiness in this present life and ascend to the summit of life eternal, there to reign in utmost blessedness.

Augustine also emphasized that the City of God and the City of Man are competing, intermingling loyalties within the same culture. It is at this aspect of the City of Man that Augustine’s critique is most pointed.

The City of Man always seeks stability, if for no other reason than to maintain its own power, and as a result, it legislates at the level of the minimal standards needed to preserve society. The City of Man, therefore, emphasizes tolerance of differences (as long as they don’t interfere with the government’s power) in order to avoid conflict. For the City of Man, this passes for peace, albeit distorted by greed and selfishness. The City of Man is dominated by self-love and built around the lowest common denominator in society, which is self-indulgence. Virtue is absent since the citizens of the City of Man love themselves more than others, though good behavior may be enforced by social customs or by coercion by the state. In this environment, the state is necessary to restrain evil. Herein lies the dilemma: the problem is, the government itself is part of the City of Man and is itself dominated by self-love. The State is more interested in self-promotion and power than it is in promoting the good. In the City of Man, the State is nothing less than organized oppression, and maintains its power through violence and threats.

In contrast to the City of Man, the City of God is built around love of God and therefore love of neighbor. Because of this focus on love, all true virtue resides in the City of God. The City of God also seeks peace, though of a different and more profound sort. Whereas the City of Man uses terror to compel good behavior and to protect good people from the wicked, the City of God relies only on penitence, grace, and mercy, not compulsion, to advance its goals. Augustine emphasized that the City of Man cannot accomplish its penultimate ends (i.e. safety, peace, etc.) if its ultimate ends, means, and motivations (i.e. domination, pride, and self-love) are fundamentally disordered. This is a reality that is understood by citizens of the City of God and because of our love for our neighbor, we have a responsibility to speak this truth in boldness to citizens of the City of Man. In this way, the City of God can influence citizens of the City of Man by addressing the moral conscience of the City of Man. In this role, the citizens of the city of God become a prophetic voice to the State – forth-telling the God’s truth as revealed in Scripture.

In the next blog, we will consider how Augustine’s Two Cities has been applied throughout Church history by examining the thoughts of Martin Luther on the subject as well as the modern advocates of Two Kingdoms theology.

A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: An Introduction

Disclaimer: The present series is a presentation of the thoughts of two Reformed Baptists (Gabriel Williams and William Leonhart) on the relationship between kingdom and culture. This series is to be taken neither as the view of all Reformed Baptists nor as the view of all contributors to CredoCovenant. Reformed Baptists are a diverse group with a wide variety of perspectives on this issue.

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Paying attention to the news, one will have noticed that 2015 has been a year marked by numerous stories that have deeply affected American cultural life in the present and will doubtless have many ramifications in the future. The following list is a quick rundown of just a few major stories that have gained attention in 2015 (so far) throughout social media.

A cursory examination demonstrates that many of the news stories mentioned above involve matters of social justice and politics. This raises a significant question for Christians to consider: What is the proper Biblical approach regarding matters of social justice and politics? This question is one that addresses fundamental aspects of public theology.

Considerations

Before answering it, we’re compelled to acknowledge the complexity of the question. Its answer demands a discussion on the relationship between the Church and State, the relationship between individual Christians and the institutional Church (i.e. a discussion of ecclesiology), and an honest discussion regarding numerous Biblical passages. Moreover, this discussion will also lead to a discussion on economic theory and political theory.

The purpose of this blog series is to present a biblical approach regarding matters of social justice and politics using Reformed and Baptistic presuppositions and to apply this biblical approach to a number of pressing issues within our American context. Our position on this matter can be summarized by the following ten points:

  1. Christians are truly citizens of the Kingdom of God and we owe our affections and our ultimate loyalty to the Heavenly City where righteousness dwells.
  2. Christians live in this present, evil age and our presence in this earthly city is like that of strangers sojourning in a foreign country.
  3. The Kingdom of God and the kingdom of this present, evil age are competing, conflicting, intermingling loyalties within the same public sphere with antithetical worldviews.
  4. Unbelievers are truly citizens of this earthly city with a nature that is governed by the flesh, rather than the Spirit, and thus have a nature that is antithetical to the Kingdom of God.
  5. Because unbelievers have disordered affections, they cannot have properly ordered penultimate ends (such as peace and justice) and thus, it should not be expected that they will rightly exercise citizenship in the public sphere.
  6. Because this present, evil age is set in opposition to the Kingdom of God, Christians cannot “redeem the culture” or transform the earthly city into the Kingdom of God.
  7. The Kingdom of Grace is already present in the invisible church, while we await the ultimate fulfillment of the Kingdom of God in glory (William Collins, “The Baptist Catechism,” Q.109).
  8. Christians are called to engage the citizens of the earthly city in the public sphere as those who have been transformed by the Spirit and to serve as a prophetic voice to our culture, forth-telling the truth of God as revealed in the Scripture.
  9. Within our American culture, if we desire to speak prophetically to the ruling class of our day, we must do so by going directly to the people, for they are the ruling class in America.
  10. The separation of Church and state means that the state is not permitted to intrude into matters of conscience nor matters of church government.

The Approach

In this blog series, we will examine the biblical warrant for each of these ten points. We will begin by discussing historical perspectives on this topic. The knowledgeable reader will recognize that our ten points are strongly grounded in Augustine’s insights into public theology. It is our contention that any discussion of how the Church interacts with the culture in the public sphere must start by interacting with Augustine’s classic work The City of God.

We will discuss various perspectives from important historical figures (such as Martin Luther, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Dooyeweerd) and from modern voices (such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, David VanDrunen, D.G. Hart, and James K. A. Smith). After conducting a historic survey of Christian thought on this issue, we will also conduct a survey of Scripture to examine biblical theology and biblical precedence on this matter. Finally, we will discuss how our position can be applied to various contemporary issues involving social justice and economic justice.

The Desired Tone

Our goal in this series is not first-and-foremost to critique other views on Christian social theory. While we may respectfully disagree with many of our contemporaries in both the theonomist and the modern Two Kingdoms camps, we will place more emphasis on the respect than on the disagreement. We do recognize that we cannot establish one position without discussing its disagreement with other positions. However, we recognize those with whom we disagree as our brothers in Christ.

As such, our goal is to enter the conversation with a positive argument for our position. It is not our goal to engage in a heated debate with a negative argument against the positions of others. We have respectfully chosen to leave that debate for another time and another place. While we do not mean to discourage debate from those who disagree with us, we do ask that you hear us out in full before responding in the comments section. There are several posts to come.