In my opinion, church trials against the Federal Vision won’t have any success. The reason is, they never address the real problem in the theology of the Federal Vision movement. The focus of the prosecution is always on the wording of the confessions, and how Federal Vision authors use or misuse that wording. The reality is, Federal Vision theology is not as explicitly creedal as their prosecutors; the creeds are of a lesser importance, and therefore the meaning of the words can be played with to fit a certain worldview. Its focus is rather on the nature of the Covenant, and on the nature of man’s participation in the Covenant. Covenant, which Biblically is ethical/judicial submission to God (Gen. 17:1; 18:19; Eccl. 12:13-14; John 15:10, 14), is changed in the Federal Vision to mean a ritualistic/magical incorporation of the individual into a deity. And since the deity has decreed that his body will be the church – understood by the FV authors to be the institutional church – then salvation must be understood as incorporation into the institutional church through the means of ceremonies and liturgies. Thus, the church’s sacraments are looked upon not as judicial declarations of judgment and grace on individuals and church directly from God (Matt. 26:28; 1 Cor. 11:27-32), but as ceremonial admission of individuals into a mystical body, through which they receive their meaning of life, their purpose, and their self-identification as saved persons. The opponents of the Federal Vision are missing the mark when they fail to recognize this foundational feature of its theology. But, of course, most of them being anti-theonomic, they will always miss the mark, for only through a thorough commitment to the Law of God as the foundation of all of life today can one grasp the true nature of the Federal Vision. The critique against it will only be successful when it is launched from an ethical/judicial view of the Covenant. And that means Theonomy, and nothing less. Modern Presbyterianism, without Theonomy, is helpless against Federal Vision theology.
As long as this misunderstanding continues, the trials against the Federal Vision will remain an exercise in futility. But what is more important to me in this article is that inevitably, such ritualistic/magical religion will be deeply collectivist in its social applications. Every religion or worldview that removes the issues of good and evil (ethical/judicial) from their central place in the life of man and his culture, is inevitably collectivist, for the only alternative to a transcendent law is an all-powerful human institution, whether it is the temple, or the family, or the state. Man either obeys a higher law before which all individuals and institutions are equally accountable, or he will elevate one of these institutions and make it a law in itself, a fixed reference point for all social existence. Federal Vision theology, by rejecting the Law of God as the highest standard for all of life, inevitably must preach collectivism. And it does. It replaces the Covenant of God with the collectivism of a human institution, and calls that collectivism a “covenant.” The problem is, collectivism is a fake covenant. True covenant is ethical obedience to God, all men and institutions equal before God, accountable to the same Law. Collectivism is institutional subjection to an institution which claims to mystically represent a deity, and therefore is above any transcendent law.
I am not the first critic to point to the collectivist nature of Federal Vision theology. Others have done it before me, although without going into a more thorough study of the issue. R.J. Rushdoony, in his Chalcedon Position Paper No. 67, points to the fact that symbolic theology (that is, not a theology of creeds, but a theology of esoteric typologies, such as the Federal Vision in the writings of James Jordan) is theological elitism. And elitism requires collectivism, for how would the elite rule the unwashed masses if the masses are not made subservient to a collective body ruled by the elite? It should be no surprise, then, that James Jordan, one of the leading voices of Federal Vision, publicly declared his support for the Mormon Mitt Romney; naturally, the creedal position of the person is not important, what is important is that he is a collectivist, which Romney certainly is, with his neo-conservative statism. Neither is it strange that Peter Leithart, another leading voice of Federal Vision, should join First Things, originally founded by the “priest of neo-conservatism,” Richard John Neuhaus. For those who would wonder why a confessionally Reformed minister, like Leithart, who used to be a theonomist, would join a statist Roman Catholic, apostate from Lutheranism, the answer is simple: They have the same view of the covenant, and that view can be summarized under one word: collectivism. The neo-conservative connection here is not a simple coincidence; neo-conservatism is trotskyism in conservative garb, and it has become the preferred social ideology of those professing Christians who want to be socially active but reject the Law of God. And when the Law of God is rejected, the alternative is embraced: collectivism.
That collectivism is an enemy of the Covenant of God, and therefore makes the Federal Vision movement an enemy of Christendom. And it must be exposed as such.
Is the Nuclear Family a Problem?
I have criticized Peter Leithart’s views before. The specific occasion for this critique is his recent article, “What’s Wrong With ‘Family Values.’” In it, he criticizes that arch-enemy of all collectivists, the nuclear family, trying to elicit some kind of ideological support for his own ideology of high-church collectivism. The article, from a writer’s and a theologian’s point of view, is a disaster. Leithart’s logic is disastrous. His theology is disastrous. His choice of authorities on whom he relies to make his point, is disastrous. He doesn’t succeed in proving anything. But he only gives more evidence to those of us who have consistently warned that Federal Vision theology is nothing more than a theology of a baptized Tower of Babel, a theology of man-made collective which adopts the name “church” but acts against the Law of God in its social practices.
Leithart’s opening salvo against the nuclear family – defined as a father, a mother, and their underage children – reads thus:
But the nuclear family is as much problem as solution. An exclusive focus on defending the nuclear family reinforces the social dislocations that created the crisis.
But if the reader would like to know what kind of a problem exactly the nuclear family is, and what these “social dislocations” are, he wouldn’t find it in the article. Leithart never explains. He makes a vague reference to “fragmented communities,” implying that the nuclear family produces those “fragmented communities.” But why would a “fragmented community” be the product of nuclear families and not, for example, of a strong institutional church, Leithart doesn’t explain. Having attended a Federal Vision church for a while, I have the opposite experience: Leithart’s view of the church, applied in practice, produces a truly fragmented community, where people go to the same church on Sunday but have no ground for fellowship during the week, and almost everyone is actively involved in gossip and intrigues, including – and especially – the elders’ wives, and the elders themselves. Contrary to Leithart’s claims later in the article, the “scrutiny” that the institutional church provides is very seldom truly beneficial in any Biblical way. To the contrary, it is a never ending source of mutual strife, slanders, enmities, etc. “Good fences make good neighbors,” and the nuclear family provides those good fences. Collectivist “scrutiny” is very seldom anything more than institutionalized envy in moralistic garb. The true social dislocation is an institutional church which encourages its members to be more interested in the faults and shortcomings of their neighbors; a nuclear family that minds its own business is not a social dislocation, except for those who want to exercise ungodly control over others.
Of course, the assumption that a community of nuclear families is “fragmented” but a community dominated by an institutional church is not, is exactly in line with the ritualistic/magical view of Federal Vision theology: that community is created by ceremonial incorporation into a mystical body, not by ethical/judicial obedience in honoring the Law of God in its standards for good and evil. Obeying the Law-Word of God doesn’t make one a good member of a community; participation in rituals does.
When Will Leithart Turn to the Bible for His Social Theory?
The most striking feature of all of Leithart’s attempts at writing social theory is the complete lack of any reference to the Bible and its standards. I have shown in a previous article how Leithart prefers to avoid consulting the Bible when he discusses the imaginary “contradictions of capitalism.” This article is not an exception. As if the Bible never discusses the nuclear family, Leithart – a self-proclaimed “Reformed” minister – never bothers to consult the most important book he should be consulting! Not that he doesn’t know better. He has been a theonomist, and therefore he knows very well that the Bible has a great deal to say about the nuclear family. The failure to go back to the Word of God on this specific social issue is not caused by his ignorance of what the Word says. It must be attributed to his willing, self-conscious refusal to hear what the Word says about it, and to proclaim it.
And no wonder. Had he gone to the Bible, he would have found that contrary to his claims that the nuclear family is a “problem” and a “reinforcer of social dislocations,” it is actually offered as the original, basic institution of society. True, it is not the dominant institution – for no institution can be considered dominant under the Covenant of God, but all have their limited spheres of jurisdiction – but neither is it considered a “problem” in any conceivable way. The Bible starts with a nuclear family, not with a church. And guess what: the Covenant of God with all mankind is declared from the very beginning in terms of the original nuclear family (Gen. 3:20). To make it even stronger, God at the very beginning declared that “man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife” (Gen. 2:24). How much stronger a statement do we need for the covenantal independence of the nuclear family from any other institution or “community”? Was God creating “problems” and “social dislocations” in the Garden, before the Fall? The nuclear family’s independence is declared in the New Testament in Paul’s words that “the head of every man is Christ” (1 Cor. 11:3), not the pastor, not the elders, not the community, and not the state. The covenantal meaning of this statement can be traced in the context of 1 Cor. 11 when Paul talks about the mutual dependence between the man (singular) and the woman (singular), not between many men and many women in a collectivist community.
The Church as the True Clan
Leithart quotes Wendell Berry that “married couples said their vows to the community as much as to one another.” Ironically, in this he echoes Israel Wayne and his clan culture, which I criticized in an earlier article. Both clan culture and liturgical pietism have the same desire to see the nuclear family stripped of its covenantal independence and subjected to the community. Both see danger in the statement that “the head of every man is Christ.” Both see the family romantics and the functioning of the family as including a wider group of people. But there is a whole book in the Bible about marriage, the Song of Solomon, and Peter Leithart, busy playing his textual and typology games with the Biblical text (his commentary on 1 Samuel is just that, and no covenantal analysis at all), fails to notice the covenantal significance of what that book is saying: There is no one else covenantally significant in the life of the family except the husband and the wife. There are no uncles, gramps, and little Johnnies, there are no elders and elders’ wives, there are no vows to the community. True enough, the community is supposed to act as a judicial witness to the vows, but it is not a covenantal participant in the vows. A man can leave his community and settle in other lands – even if Leithart speaks against “mobility” as if it is some kind of evil – but he can’t leave his wife. Leithart speaks of his own experience,
During each of the dozens of wedding services I have performed, I have asked the congregation, “Do you as a church and family promise to do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage covenant?” I have been blessed to serve a church where the “Amen” to that question is never perfunctory.
All good and well and touching and romantic. But what he describes is a man-made ritual not to be found in the Bible. Not that there is anything wrong with it, not at all. There are many man-made rituals that have a good foundation and start with good intentions. But Leithart bases his views on the nuclear family on the significance of that ritual. He is making theology based on human tradition, not on the Biblical Law. And the Biblical Law doesn’t allow for the community to meddle in the family, except when there is a legal complaint from one of the spouses about a violation of the Law. Mind your own business, the Law of God warns, except when God tells you to intervene, according to His Law.
As it is to be expected, Leithart uses the arguments of another collectivist system – clan patriarchalism – to defend his ideas of covenantal subjection of the nuclear family to other institutions. No wonder; both are collectivist. All he needs to do is replace the clan with the church. That’s exactly how the Federal Vision authors view the institutional church: a clan where the heads of the clan – the elders – have absolute authority. Leaving the clan is impossible, except through excommunication. Why, even individual prayer is a dangerous thing; the elders should write the prayers for the heads of the families. The clan can’t allow for any independent thought to take root. “Every believer is a priest” is a dangerous statement. So much for the Reformation and its doctrines.
If Leithart doesn’t go to the Bible to glean wisdom about the true value of the nuclear family, we can’t expect him to go back to history either. Two thousand years of history have certainly given us enough examples of the true value and place of the nuclear family, and its social strength and vitality. It was the first Reformation in the 11th and the 12th centuries that destroyed the influence of the old clannish social order and its legal systems, and instituted the canon law as the legal foundation of all modern societies. (See Harold Berman, Law and Revolution.) It was the Reformation in the 16th century which gave the individuals and the nuclear family a new impetus by declaring the economic endeavors of the family as spiritual and godly as – if not more than – the “spiritual” activities of church ministers. Thus, freed from the shackles of Gnosticism, the nuclear families produced that strange new bird, the independent-minded man, the entrepreneur; and not only created him but also created the rhetoric that protected him from the prejudices of the past. And independent-minded men created capitalism, the system that is so successful, and so reviled by those same intellectuals who take advantage of it without shame, while babbling about its imaginary “cultural contradictions.” Like Peter Leithart. America today is the greatest example of how nuclear families can deal with all social and economic challenges without anyone else’s help, and can build a successful and prosperous society in a very short period, defeating collectivist societies without much effort. Provided, of course, the nuclear family sticks to the Law-Word of God as its ethical foundation – that same Law-Word that Leithart fails to refer to, when discussing social issues. He thinks the institutional church will be more successful in building a successful society without the Law of God.
The New Age Language of Collectivism
I said above that Leithart uses the argument for clannish patriarchalism to defend his own system of collectivism, except that the institutional “church” is now the clan. What is curious is that he doesn’t even use as authority a professing Christian – there are those, who, admittedly, ignorantly claim the clan structure as the Biblical family. But Leithart prefers for his authority Wendell Berry, a non-Christian, and an avowed opponent of the Biblical social values. When discussing the imaginary “inner contradictions of capitalism,” again, Leithart relied on the statist-socialist Daniel Bell. As I mentioned above, he joined a group founded by an apostate Lutheran turned Papist, who is known for his statist views. Leithart’s reluctance to go to the Bible for his social theory is strange, but even stranger is his eagerness to find common language with the enemies of God and of God’s Law. “Common language” is the emphasis here. As in the Tower of Babel, that archetype of all collectivism. He can’t find a common language with the Law of God, though. The Law of God is not to be trusted, for it persists in speaking things contrary to Leithart’s theology.
Notice Leithart’s use of language, worthy of a New Age writer:
Marriage stretches beyond the local community to embrace the cosmic: “The marriage of two lovers joins them to one another, to forebears, to descendants, to the community, to Heaven and earth.” Embedded in a network of relations, marriage and the nuclear family were public facts.
The “cosmic.” “Joins them to forebears and to descendants.” To “Heaven and earth.” Marriage is a mystical fact, a mystical union to the whole reality. There is this esoteric, occult connection to forebears and descendants. Much of it, of course, is indeed taken from New Age, for Berry – whose words are quoted – was indeed influenced by New Age, despite his formal attendance of a Baptist church. Leithart sees no problem in such language; after all, it fits perfectly with the magical view of his theology. What must be avoided at any cost is the ethical/judicial language of God’s Covenant. And sure enough, nothing blurs the lines between good and evil as talking about the “cosmic” and the mystical union with it. After all, that Tower at Babel was built with exactly the same motive: to join the “cosmic.”
Mobility and the Tower of Babel
The connection to the Tower of Babel becomes even more apparent when we see that together with the “inner contradictions of capitalism” Leithart finds evil in mobility as well. He says the following:
The most penetrating conservative analysts of family life, such as Allan Carlson, have always recognized the cultural contradictions of capitalism and of technological society. They have always recognized the costs (as well as the gains) of separating work and home; of geographic, vocational, and social mobility; of the indisputable wealth-generating power of capitalism.
Now, it is disputable whether Carlson is indeed a “penetrating analyst.” He lacks the comprehensive worldview that can make him an “analyst” to start with. His ideas, as far as I am concerned, are quite fragmented, just like the ideas of another “analyst,” Noam Chomsky, and of what I have read, I can see much emotion dressed in analytically-sounding language. If Leithart wanted a truly penetrating analyst of family life, he should have consulted R.J. Rushdoony. But Rushdoony is a theonomist, therefore he can’t be mentioned, for then Leithart will have to go back to the Law of God.
Another question about this quote would be, “What are the costs of the indisputable wealth-generating power of capitalism?” The answer, apparently, is that,
our economic system or our technological progress might inhibit the formation of what Berry describes as an economy that “exists for the protection of gifts, beginning with the ‘giving in marriage.’”
If this sounds like a mumbo-jumbo to you, it is because it is indeed mumbo-jumbo. The costs of the wealth-generating power of capitalism and technology are that they might inhibit some utopian dream of an individual dreamer, who can’t even define in plain words what he is looking for. (That would be a benefit, not a cost.) Capitalism actually is the only system that protects gifts, simply because it produces enough for giving to be possible, including in marriage. Anything else is nonsense, an attempt of armchair philosophers to imagine some kind of perfect society; the modern secular inteligentsia’s version of an “electronic Tibet.”
But the most interesting thing here is Leithart’s inclusion of mobility, geographic, vocational, and social. It has a cost, and apparently, it must be a great cost, otherwise he wouldn’t mention it together with that nemesis of all collectivists, capitalism. Geographic mobility is the freedom of individuals and nuclear families to move to a different geographical location. Like, for example, those nuclear families who came on the Mayflower. Or like the nuclear families who crossed the wilderness to settle the states of Washington and Oregon and Idaho, where Leithart lives. Or like Joseph’s family which first moved to Egypt, and then, upon returning back to Israel, moved far north to Capernaum, away from their community and extended family. Vocational mobility would be the freedom of individuals to move to better jobs, that is, become more productive and more useful to their neighbors and their communities. Social mobility is a rather general term, but it would mean a society with no strict social lines between “nobles” and “commoners,” or between rich and poor, or between “ruling class” and “population”; a society where an individual can, through his efforts and industriousness, or his inactivity and laziness, rise or fall in the society in terms of his control of social resources.
Another way of explaining those terms would be to look at which societies lack such mobility. A society without geographical mobility would be the Soviet Union where individuals were not only banned from leaving the country without government permission, but were also limited as to where they travel and where they live within the country itself. Ancient Egypt was also a society of limited geographical mobility for its citizens; and so was European feudalism at the height of its dominance. A society without vocational mobility would be what is known as “guild socialism,” where men are fixed at their jobs and trades by social custom; or, as in the later Roman Empire, by government decree. Many European countries today have government educational systems that divide the students from an age of 12 or 13 into two classes of schools, academic and vocational, training white-collar and blue-collar workers, respectively. Education in both types of schools is so different that the chances for a graduate from a vocational school to enter university are much smaller than those for one from an academic school, thus preserving the vocational immobility in the society. Imperial China was a society of vocational immobility, and Communists in China continue enforcing some fixity as to the occupation of certain classes of workers. A society without social mobility would be feudalism, or a caste society as in India, or in the empires of the Incas and the Aztecs.
Looking at those examples, one is wondering, “What exactly is Leithart’s problem with mobility?” The answer to the question is found in Genesis 11, where the collectivists who built the Tower of Babel, were afraid of being scattered (mobility). They wanted to build a name (singular) for themselves (plural), one name for a group of people, which has always been the dream of every collectivist. In order to do that, they had to destroy all mobility of individuals; for people scattered abroad will mean the end of all collectivist dreams. For the Federal Vision’s dream of a collectivist society under a dominant institutional church to come true, the capitalist society with its independent-minded individuals and nuclear families must be destroyed. A stagnant society must be built, where individuals and nuclear families must be fixed in one place geographically, vocationally, and socially. Only when their mobility is destroyed, their independent mind is destroyed, and their entrepreneurial spirit is destroyed, they will be easy prey for a larger collective to establish its dominance over them, whether that larger collective is the institutional church, or the clan, or the state.
“Trade Your Liberty for Security”
In order to convince his listeners of the necessity of the subjection of the nuclear family to Leithart’s collective body, Leithart uses the same tactics our modern rulers in Washington DC are using: fear. He starts his article with some obscure story about industrial accidents. From the beginning to the end of the article, this is the underlying threat: If you, nuclear families, don’t submit to the church, bad things will happen. You need security. And for that security, you need to sacrifice some liberty. What’s the sacrifice of some liberty for the promise of security? Leithart’s collectivism is no different from the collectivism offered to us by the socialists in power; it uses the same threats, offers the same fake promise, and makes the same demands of surrendering liberty in the name of security.
This promise of security for liberty appeals especially to modern pietism and its “ghetto” mentality of escapism and fear. Under the eschatology of dispensationalism and its historical pessimism, modern Christians have focused exclusively on defending their little perimeters against “accidents,” against the influences of the world. The message of a victorious Church that advances and shatters the gates of hell in history and on earth has been lost. The church and the individual Christians are now viewed as historically impotent; and the world is viewed as a rising threat to the security of Christian homes and churches. Leithart, whom many of his blinded followers believe to be a postmillennialist, plays on these pessimistic emotions and promises security against the superior dark forces of the world. No matter what Leithart claims about his eschatology, he expects his readers to be pessimistic about their ability to overcome the world.
But salvation is not about security, it is about dominion. Individuals and nuclear families are supposed to go out and conquer the world. The Church is not a temple, a stagnant institution promising security to its members; it is the modern synagogue, a cultural beachhead in a sea of helpless, bewildered, and retreating paganism, where individuals and their families are trained to advance, not to shrink under the threat of harm and “accidents.” Security is for cowards who don’t want to fight. Dominion-oriented men care nil about security; they want liberty to unleash their God-given potential and bring the rule of God to every area of life. Limiting that rule only to the collective that Leithart calls “church” is not the Biblical ideal, it is the ideal of our enemies who would want Christians to be mainly obsessed with preserving their little precious hides and therefore never challenge the world. But to challenge the world, the community must be broken into little pieces, just like Jesus’s body was broken, and those little pieces are the nuclear families. The job of the nuclear families is exactly the same as it was when the American wilderness was challenged: Get your wife and your kids, put them on that Conestoga wagon, say good-bye to your town, and go west. When you settle with other families, organize your own synagogue, but don’t make it your stagnant point of reference, and don’t make it a ruler over you. It must be there to teach you and your children to conquer, not to submit to an earthly institution just for the sake of security, because some collectivist tells you that “accidents” happen. Once you trade your liberty to conquer for some imaginary security under a collective, this is the end of your Christian civilization. Even if that collective calls itself “church” and has men in funny robes performing esoteric rituals and doing unintelligible chanting on a stage.
To go back to the beginning of Leithart’s article, let’s quote him again:
Alarmed by the collapse of sexual morals, rising rates of divorce and illegitimacy, and legalized abortion, we’ve devoted energy and resources to shoring up the “traditional family,” conceived of as father-breadwinner, mother-homemaker, and their common children. But the nuclear family is as much problem as solution.
Unless he hasn’t been thinking clearly while writing these sentences, Leithart declares that the nuclear family has been the problem that brought us “the collapse of sexual morals, rising rates of divorce and illegitimacy, and legalized abortion.” We have had too many healthy, independent, nuclear families, not subjected to meddling from the institutional church, and that’s what created these problems. Leithart’s solution is the solution of a collectivist, of one who wants to build a religious clan, a baptized Tower of Babel: no covenantal independence of families under God, but constant scrutiny and meddling by the church. That will solve the problems.
I have the Biblical answer and the Biblical solution to Leithart: The problem is not institutional, it is first and foremost ethical. What we have today is both churches and institutional families who are antinomian, that is, who have abandoned the Law of God. A meddlesome church that doesn’t preach the Law of God will be just as destructive – if not more – than a nuclear family which doesn’t honor the Law of God. Therefore, our first step should not be to make the nuclear family an addendum to the “cosmic,” that is, a collective led by chanting clowns in funny robes, but to identify those among our church ministers who refuse to go to the Biblical Law for their social ethics.
When we do that, we will find out that Leithart is one of them. Anything but the Law of God: this is a fitting motto for Leithart’s thought in the last several years. He wants to go to imagination for solutions, to chanting the Bible, to perfection of liturgy, he freely borrows ideas from socialists and new-agers, to anything out there. Except to the Bible. The only ideology he seems to criticize is Theonomy, the teaching that the Law of God is valid and applicable to our modern society. You know, Theonomy that is too judicial, too “wooden” for the exalted elitist minds of our modern liturgical zealots. Anything but the Law of God.
So the nuclear family is not a problem, and has never been a part of the problem. Leithart is, and he has been a part of the problem since he abandoned Theonomy in favor of the Federal Vision. A minister who is not actively preaching the Law of God, is a minister who is actively preaching the laws of men. Those same laws of men that make possible “the collapse of sexual morals, rising rates of divorce and illegitimacy, and legalized abortion.” There are only two alternatives: Theonomy or autonomy. By abandoning Theonomy, Leithart has embraced autonomy.
And now he is blaming it on the nuclear family.
But the nuclear family is not, and has never been part of the problem; it has always been part of the solution, from the beginning of time. If only we had ministers who – unlike Leithart – honor the Law of God and preach it and teach it to the nuclear families in their churches. And then, leave them at liberty to apply it in taking dominion.
This is how Christendom is built.Share on Facebook