From Jake: I’ve invited Brad Littlejohn to respond to Kyle Dillon’s review of his book The Two Kingdoms: A Guide for the Perplexed.

I am very grateful to Kyle Dillon’s thoughtful review of my little book, The Two Kingdoms: A Guide for the Perplexed on Mere Orthodoxy a couple months ago. The long delay in my response to it says nothing about the importance of the questions he raised there and everything about my overcommitment to other projects during that period.

In the first third of his review, Kyle offers a fine concise summary of the background debate over the “two kingdoms” in recent years, and of the argument of my book. He then spends the remainder of the view articulating what I take to be two main questions:

  1. Does the understanding of Christian liberty and adiaphora defended in my book “open the door for a tyranny of temporal authorities acting in the name of prudence and natural law”?
  2. What is the role of natural law in political discourse and rule, and how does it relate to special revelation?

These are precisely the questions to be asking when it comes to this all-important subject, and I am grateful to Kyle for foregrounding them and giving me the opportunity to expand on them here, since the tight space limits imposed by the Davenant Guides series left little room to fully address the questions raised by the argument.1

First, then, Dillon objects (and I will quote in full to make my interaction easier to follow):

For one, his treatment of adiaphora almost turns the standard view of Christian liberty on its head. The term adiaphora is ordinarily defined as matters in which believers are free to act according to their consciences, when such matters 1) do not relate to salvation and 2) are not explicitly stated in Scripture. This means that any undue restrictions imposed on the believer’s conduct would be tantamount to “binding the conscience.” And yet Littlejohn’s definition of adiaphora seems to exaggerate the divide between conscience and conduct, while considerably restricting the scope of the former. This has the counter-intuitive result of licensing rather than limiting temporal authorities (which includes ecclesial authorities, on his view) in imposing conduct on any matter not related to salvation. 

Thus, in his effort to safeguard the church from “the tyranny of Scripture conceived as an exhaustive law-book” (46), Littlejohn opens the door for a tyranny of temporal authorities acting in the name of prudence and natural law. What do we gain by adopting this more limited definition of Christian liberty? And how exactly are we to determine the line between conscience and conduct? Littlejohn speaks of a “creative tension” between the magistrate’s authority to command in adiaphora and the individual conscience’s authority to determine when the boundary of adiaphora has been transgressed (18). But why should we see this as a creative tension and not as an inherent ambiguity or even an irreconcilable contradiction? Littlejohn’s proposal would be enhanced by giving greater attention the limits (and overall purpose) of temporal authority, particularly in Christian life and worship.

Before addressing this important question, I do want to object slightly to how it is framed. In my book, the discussion of adiaphora is presented almost entirely as a historical exposition of the thought of Luther, Calvin, Hooker, and other 16th-century figures; it is not “Littlejohn’s definition” of adiaphora, but theirs. We certainly may take issue with the Reformers where we disagree with them, but let us at least take seriously where they stand.

Any readers unpersuaded by the citations in this section of The Two Kingdoms may consult the extensive treatment in Peril and Promise. Thus I object to Dillon’s phrasing “turns the standard view of Christian liberty on its head,” inasmuch as I hardly think we should grant the new modern understanding the right to be called “standard.” Still, if Dillon means that I  “turn the view of Christian liberty now standardly taught on its head,” well yes, this is precisely what I meant to do. The Reformers’ doctrine is “counter-intuitive” from a modern standpoint, in which those within the church are almost as likely as those outside to think of “liberty” simply in terms of what we can and can’t do. But they explicitly rejected such an understanding:

“Christian liberty is not a wandering and unruly licence, by which we may do or leave undone whatsoever we list at our pleasure; but it is a free gift bestowed upon us by Christ our Lord; by the which, the children of God (that is, all the faithful), being delivered from the curse of the law, or eternal death, and from the heavy yoke of the ceremonial law, and being endowed with the Holy Ghost, begin willingly of their own accord to serve God in holiness and righteousness.”2

Christian liberty is thus (1) the freedom from the curse of the law, which made the doing or not-doing of works the ground of salvation, and (2) the freedom to cheerfully obey God in those things which his Word commands. The Reformers were appalled by the suggestion that it might mean (3) the freedom to act however we chose in those things unspecified by Scripture. As Hooker exclaims, “[This] opinion . . . shaketh universally the fabric of government, tendeth to anarchy and mere confusion, dissolveth families, dissipateth colleges, corporations, armies, overthroweth kingdoms, churches, and whatsoever is now through the providence of God by authority and power upheld.”

And in fact, we take for granted that governments have the power to constrain our actions in many matters left unspecified in Scripture: traffic laws, tax rates, most points of contract law and property rights; any number of areas where the common good requires all of us to respect certain rules—even when we might personally disagree with their wisdom.

Indeed, as Hooker points out, so do authorities in any number of spheres of life. The difference between the sixteenth century and now is simply that back then, they considered that the common good was at stake, and the danger of chaos was lurking, in a much wider array of issues than we now do. Part of this is due to changes in thinking, part is due to changes in circumstances and the nature of community. They, for instance, were likely to consider sumptuary laws—regulating just how fancily you could dress in public—crucial to sustaining public order and economic stability.

But it also seemed quite clear to them that these restraints on conduct were no transgression on conscience. After all, you didn’t have to believe in the special appropriateness of woollen caps if you were an Elizabethan Englishman, you just had to wear them; just as a modern American who believes in the superiority of left-side-of-road driving is perfectly free to believe that, so long as he keeps that to himself and dutifully sticks to the right side in his actual conduct. To be sure, if you had a religious conviction about the need to drive on the left side of the road, then you might complain that your conscience was being violated, but most of us (and the courts) would shrug and say “too bad.”

Now, to all this, Dillon might say “fair enough.” But what about when we are talking about religious matters? In the sixteenth century, after all, they were likely to consider the form of public worship—far more so than sumptuary laws—a matter crucial to sustaining public order. As such, the laws could command the times and places of worship, the appropriate uses of church funds, and many other such adiaphora, and again, it seemed clear to the Reformers that this was simply a matter of the community exercising its corporate freedom over adiaphora, where unrestrained individual freedom would lead to chaos.

Again, a distinction between conscience and conduct was standard here, and none of the magisterial Reformers saw it as an irreconcilable contradiction. The civil magistrate could declare a public fast from eating meat for mundane, civil reasons, but could not tell anyone that they had a religious duty before God to abstain from eating meat. Still, there was a lot more potential for conflict here. When in Elizabethan England, priests were told they had to wear a certain kind of cap when presiding in worship, some felt conscience-bound to resist, on account of the close association of certain clerical vestments with Catholic practice, and thus a regulation of conduct became, for some, a matter of conscience.

Now, how are we to deal with this legacy? Do we just dismiss it as the benighted error of a bygone era that we have thankfully transcended? Or do we rather recognize the commonsensical force of the basic distinction and ask how we might get from this application of the two kingdoms and Christian liberty to one more amenable to the freedoms we now take for granted?

Thankfully, the basic pathway from the one to the other is not hard to find, although the devil is very much in the details. When post-Reformation polities realized that an awful lot of sticking points seemed to be cropping up where individuals felt that conscience was on the line in some regulation of adiaphora or other, they realized that the attempt to enforce these things could lead to serious conflict. And serious conflict, everyone agreed, was hardly conducive to the common good. Thus, they had to go back and consider more carefully whether their attempt to serve the common good by a given civil or ecclesiastical regulation was really worth it. Perhaps something important was to be gained by making everyone wear caps; but if a bunch of people started protesting, they might well ask, “Well, is it really that important?” By this means, an ever-larger sphere of private freedoms of behavior, especially religious behavior, were carved out, and for that we may be grateful

However, before I move on, it is still worth addressing Dillon’s question “What do we gain by adopting this more limited definition of Christian liberty [that is, one in which freedom of conduct is not ipso facto guaranteed]?”

The answer is that it is much better than the only conceivable alternatives. Alternative 1 has already been observed—anarchy. Few in the sixteenth century wanted that, and even nowadays, few do. Thus, we are apt to search for some clear means of drawing the boundary in advance, some divine law that will circumscribe in advance what human laws may and may not be made. Anything can fill this role—the Bible, the Koran, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In any of these cases, though, observe what happens. There will still be disagreement—there always is among human beings—only now disagreement will be elevated to a matter of the highest stakes possible. It will not be enough to say, “Well, I think it’s a rubbish law, but it’s just a human law after all, so I’ll grin and bear it.” No, if the rules of the game—what the state must command and may command, what the church must command and may command—are all to be determined in advance by the sacred text, then any disagreement will mark one out as the enemy of God and of the community. The pressure will be not merely to conform, but to prove one’s salvation by conformity. Again, there are theonomic Puritan ways of doing this, and social justice warrior ways of doing this. But the basic danger is the same, and the tyranny thus threatened—tyranny over conscience—is a much more fearful one than the purely secular tyranny Dillon worries about.

Now, that all took a bit longer to spell out than I would have liked. So I will try to be comparatively brief in addressing Dillon’s second question, or rather cluster of questions, although it is much longer in his review than the first. This will be the easier inasmuch as I more or less agree with everything he says here, even if he does not seem to realize it. He objects:

Littlejohn argues that since the task of civil government is merely the maintenance of the creation order and not the redemption of society, then Scripture may be useful in guiding our political thinking, but it is not strictly necessary, since natural law is in principle sufficient (81-82). But this claim stands in tension with his recognition of the continuity of creation and redemption (83-84). While it is true that civil government serves only the penultimate ends of order and justice rather than the ultimate end of salvation, is it really possible to have rightly ordered penultimate ends when one’s ultimate ends are disordered? 

To the concluding question, the book itself provides I think a clear enough answer:

“But this does not mean that political government can really be religiously neutral. After all, although we have stressed the “order” part of the phrase “creation order,” the “creation” part is just as crucial. The order of this world only makes sense in the end as an order bestowed by and pointing toward a Creator, and earthly rulers who forget this are liable to soon forget the order as well. Even the minimalist Noahic Covenant begins with a sacrifice to God in grateful acknowledgment to him of his sustenance of the world (Genesis 8:20–21). Even in the seemingly self-sufficient modern liberal West, our political structures cannot long do without such grateful acknowledgment of their Lord before they try to set themselves up as lords in His place” (82).

I expand upon this in the pages immediately following, saying,

“The world is broken, and is being healed. Political rulers ought not seek to pre-empt the shape of the new creation, but neither must they rest content with a fully broken world; inasmuch as Scripture reveals and the gospel enables a world ordered as it was originally meant to be, politics may be guided by this ideal and nourished by this Christian virtue.

Or, to put it another way, because Christ reigns over the kingdoms of this world as the one who is their redeemer, sustaining the creation order precisely so that his redemptive work can be brought to completion within it, this shapes the mission of earthly rulers. Properly speaking, the rulers of the kingdoms of this world, mediating as they do the authority of Christ, are likewise responsible for sustaining the creation order for the sake of its redemption” (83).

There is a sense in which I could affirm that Scripture is not strictly necessary and natural law is in principle sufficient (though I don’t believe I ever say quite that in the book), but only in the sense that two legs are not strictly necessary to a human body and one leg and a cane are in principle sufficient. Yes, you can get still get around that way, and indeed, a disciplined and energetic one-legged man can do better than a lazy two-legged man (just like a wise pagan ruler might govern better than a thoughtless Christian ruler), but no one is going to say it’s the ideal. Contrast this with matters of faith and salvation, where the one leg of natural reason won’t get you anywhere. As Hooker puts it neatly, “therefore in moral actions, the divine law greatly helps the law of reason in guiding man’s life, but in supernatural matters, it alone guides us.”3

Still, since we’re Christians, and have Scripture, why bother banging on about how great natural law is? Dillon objects,

“Likewise, what value do natural-law arguments have in a society that rejects any notion of nature (consider current debates over gender, for example)? Without a shared understanding of creation’s telos, natural law reasoning has little more persuasive force amongst many than does appeal to Scripture.”

There are, I think, three points to be made here.

First, Scripture itself presupposes natural law at many points. It assumes a bedrock of sound moral reason and recognition of basic creational norms, and then confirms those and takes us further in understanding the implications of these. But to the extent that we neglect natural law and expect Scripture to do all the work for us, we will be apt to miss what it is telling us and place too much weight on the wrong places. Consider recent debates about the Trinity and gender, for instance. The Bible assumes a natural law awareness of the complementarity of the sexes and builds upon it (and challenges and qualifies it in placies). When we lose sight of this ourselves, we flail about looking for a knockdown biblical argument for such complementarity, and decide to use the most special of special revelation—the doctrine of the Trinity. The result is zero rational illumination and a great deal of doctrinal obfuscation.

Second, true it may be that natural-law arguments are deeply contested in a culture in revolt against nature. But does that mean they have no persuasive value over and above straight-up biblical arguments? I find this highly doubtful. Consider transgenderism. Sure, there are many people so hell-bent on following the gospel of individual autonomy wherever it leads that they won’t hear any arguments. But for people of goodwill, there’s still a lot of room to point out that, you know, biology really is a thing, and the two sexes each fulfill quite distinct functions within the larger human telos, and that even our basic animal nature demonstrates this, or to point to the psychological evidence of how deeply unhelpful it is to normalize gender dysphoria, etc., etc. Any of these lines of argument may not be easy or immediately persuasive, but they will, I warrant you, be far more persuasive than a simple, “Well, God says so,” much less an appeal to the arcane mysteries of the Trinity.

Third, acknowledging the validity of natural-law reasoning enables us to recognize and embrace wisdom wherever we find it. We all instinctively do this, even the most hardened van Tillian. We come across something that some unbelieving philosopher or scientist or statesman has says that rings true, and we say, “Yeah, that guy knew what he was talking about!” But if we disparage natural law at every turn, we can’t consistently do this. We will have to deprive ourself of useful allies in the search for truth, denying the shared reality that we inhabit and claiming that only the regenerate can ever see the world aright.

A couple final remarks in closing. Dillon wonders whether the language of “the two kingdoms” is really the most helpful, since we should “affirm that Christ is King over all creation, and that his redemptive work extends ‘far as the curse is found.’” This the book, and the two-kingdoms tradition it surveys, heartily does affirm—these are Christ’s two kingdoms, make no bones about that, and he redeems what he creates (though this last is a point of difference with the R2K paradigm). I also explicitly note that the language of “two kingdoms” is not ideal; Luther’s own preferred term was “two governments” (p. 13) and Hooker expands on this language (p. 44). Still, it is the language that has become standard, and it’s best to work within it.

Finally, Dillon offers an “alternative proposal”: the “two cities” paradigm. “Rather than drawing the line of demarcation between two dimensions or spheres of Christ’s rule, the line is instead drawn between Christ’s cosmic rule and Satan’s cosmic rebellion—between the city of God and the city of Man.”

This is an entirely appropriate and fruitful paradigm to use, but it should not be considered an “alternative” because it is not as if the two are mutually exclusive; indeed, Luther himself worked frequently with both. The two cities paradigm distinguishes ultimate loyalties and final destinations, while the two kingdoms paradigm, overlaid on top of it, distinguishes between the way the Christian relates to this ultimate loyalty and to the subordinate earthly loyalties that confront him this side of the eschaton. Both, in my view, are necessary to a fully-fledged Christian ethic for life in this world.

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  1. I will say that my much longer book The Peril and Promise of Christian Liberty, published by Eerdmans almost concurrently with The Two Kingdoms, has a very thorough discussion of both these questions, particularly the first, and I refer the reader to it in the pages of the latter; however, it is always helpful to be challenged to restate matters in condensed form, and in new contexts, and I will attempt to do so here.
  2. So reads article 1 of the 1565 document XXXII Propositions or Articles, Subscribed By severall Reformed Churches, and Concurred in by divers godly Ministers of the City of London.
  3. Hooker, Laws, I.16.5; modernized in Bradford Littlejohn, Brad Belschner, and Brian Marr, eds., Divine Law and Human Nature: Book I of Hooker’s Laws—A Modernization, 96. This entire volume is of immense value in understanding this whole subject of the relationship of natural law and Scripture.

Posted by Brad Littlejohn

Brad Littlejohn (PhD University of Edinburgh, 2013) is a Senior Fellow with the Edmund Burke Foundation and President of the Davenant Institute, author in the fields of Reformation studies, Christian ethics, and political theology.


  1. This discussion hits on important issues.

    On the question of Christian liberty, I’m unpersuaded by Littlejohn’s argument. I don’t see that we have to choose between moral paternalism in adiaphora and anarchy. When it comes to adiaphora, general revelation strikes me as a sufficient guide to prevent anarchy. By my observation, secularists, applying little more than the “harm principle,” consistently do a far better job at making wise, reasonable decisions in life than those who resort instead to the paternalistic moralism of the evangelical subculture. When I left evangelicalism behind, I did so with a key observation in mind: In an instance of need, I would more likely trust my secular friends and colleagues than folks at church. The alternative to Littlejohn’s moral paternalism is not anarchy; it is often wisdom.

    And whose moral paternalism do we trust? By my observation (as a former evangelical), evangelical moral paternalism tends to rely heavily on perceived tribal loyalty. Consider that nearly 40% of Alabama evangelicals are more likely to support Roy Moore because of his history of predatory conduct toward teenaged women. Evangelicals perceive Moore to be “one of us” and to be a proponent of a political culture that grants legal and social privileges to white evangelicals at the expense of others. So, they stand by him regardless of the credibility of the accusations against him. And, in my own experience, I saw far more examples of moral failure among fellow evangelicals than I did and do among my secular friends and colleagues. And, within evangelical circles, that moral failure was consistently ignored or trivialized when the perpetrator was good at playing the one-of-us card. I often seek the moral advice of secular friends and colleagues, and generally profit from it. During my 15+ years within evangelicalism, I received little moral instruction that was remotely profitable. Evangelicals are primarily concerned about tribal loyalty, and they judge morality primarily based on that. I have no intention to cede moral authority to those who operate within such a value system.

    Lastly, I generally agree with Littlejohn’s belief in the value of natural law. I don’t like the term, though. I prefer that we simply speak of it in terms of wisdom gleaned from God’s general revelation. The goal is to gain moral wisdom over time, not to discover some hard-and-fast “law” that assures us of moral certainty. Yes, there are differences between males and females, and those differences are complementary in a general way. But that observation hardly necessitates the kind of rigid gender-role dogma that pervades the evangelical subculture. Never mind that people vary a lot, and complementarity often looks different in individual relationships than it does at a macroscopic level. Making moral decisions in life depends more on developing wisdom than conforming to some alleged “laws” of how things ought to be. I’m fine with natural law, as long as we accept that it can rarely lead to anything more than fuzzy boundaries. I was reading a book recently published by evangelical gender scholar Tim Bayly. Bayly, like most evangelicals, sees a world without shades of gray. When we assume that general revelation must necessarily place us in a position to make black-or-white moral judgments, we are not really doing natural law. In that sense, we are just exercising tribalism and calling it natural law. I’ve always found it interesting that Bayly and his ilk can do little more than revert to 1950s-era stereotypes of gender roles. If gender radicals are gaining cultural ground (and they are), it is only because the conservative response is often equally foolish. It doesn’t take much analysis to recognize that evangelical reasoning on “biblical masculinity” amounts to little more than a fetish for the familialist vision of masculinity and femininity promoted by conservative Freudian scholars in the mid-20th century. And, when one considers that evangelicalism is primarily a social reaction against the changing roles of women, non-whites, and non-heterosexuals in society, such natural-law reasoning can lead back to tribalism.

    I keep brining up the issue of tribalism because I believe that that’s what mainly drives this discussion. I’ve noticed that most proponents of R2K claim primary social allegiance to the cognitive elite. Their tribe is the cognitive elite, not the tribe that fills the pews of most evangelical churches on Sunday mornings. When I was an evangelical, I gravitated to R2K. It wasn’t because I really believed in it. Rather, I did so because it acknowledged my fundamental distrust of most evangelicals to exercise any kind of moral authority over me. After all, I received my moral instruction from the network of institutions that define social and political life for the cognitive elite. Elite subculture has a profound shaping effect despite its eschewing of expressions of explicit morality. And it does a reasonably effective job of shaping moral people. In fact, it does such an effective job that people are often blind to its shaping effect. And, to be honest, I’m much more comfortable being shaped within that context. By contrast, evangelicalism is primarily comprised of those who lack access to the morality-shaping institutions that benefit the cognitive elite. The culture of the church often fills that void. But it does so in a way that is better suited to the demographic it serves.

    So, while I believe that this is a needed discussion, I think it’s often helpful to acknowledge the degree to which tribalism plays a role in these discussions. Do so-called “complementarians” really believe that God really calls all men to be “hard men” in the mold of John Wayne? Probably not. But they probably do believe that it’s a better take on masculinity for most middle-class white men. And I agree. But such an approach to masculinity would disqualify men from most elite professions, where navigating complexity and appreciating nuance are keys to success. If you’re trying to put together a complex cross-border transaction, you don’t want a black-and-white thinker navigating you through the process. Elite professions are filled with people who can assess complex situations and chart reasonable courses through otherwise-difficult waters. Such people don’t need Tim Bayly, Owen Strachan, Denny Burk, or Doug Wilson telling them how to be “hard men.” They’re skilled at navigating on the cliff’s edge without falling off. And R2K is their way of telling Bayly et al. to back off.

    We often discuss these issues as though people have fairly equal ability to exercise good moral decision-making in a complex world. They don’t. The paternalism of evangelicalism reflects the fact that many within the non-elite subculture of evangelicalism have less ability to exercise such wisdom. In fact, I have a number of friends who emerged out of humble circumstances because their families opted for the explicit (and often inflexible) moral paternalism of evangelical Christianity. But not everyone needs that. And as elite and non-elite subcultures continue to bifurcate socially, it’s understandable that elites within evangelical circles are bound to push back. I have no problem with the fact that black and white evangelicals don’t worship together on Sunday morning. In many ways, that separation has far less to do with racism than with the fact that the two groups have very different social experiences in America. The same is becoming true of elites and non-elites. The life of a tech entrepreneur in the Haidian District of Beijing differs little from that of a tech entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. In fact, if one visits the tech parks on the northwest outskirts of Beijing, one enters an ecosystem that looks and feels very much like that of Palo Alto. Even so, the lives of these entrepreneurs differ markedly from that of their countrymen in Baoding or Fresno. The elite subculture has become a distinct–and often international–culture that is as different from non-elite culture as Canada is from Mexico. But these cultural differences are not as apparent to us because they don’t fall along traditional lines of cultural difference. In that sense, I see the R2K call as little more than a call by elites to manage their own flavor of evangelicalism, just as we generally let non-US evangelicals manage their own national churches. That’s because culture often affects how we view adiaphora, and we are often more likely to rely on culture to help us navigate adiaphora than we are to rely on some supra-cultural notion of natural law.


    1. You use the word Evangelical rather monochromatically, and I wonder whether your analysis would benefit from subtler distinctions. I mean, the way you talk about Roy Moore is ridiculous. I don’t think evangelicals support Moore ‘because’ of his sexual indiscretion. And, even so, many Evangelical “leaders” have come out of the woodwork to condemn the man. But here’s the rub between the 88~& of Evangelicals who voted for Trump and then the polling data that, when factoring regular (once a month) church attendance, that number drops down to the mid-50s range. Conflation between the typical evangelical pastor and lay folk obscures the fact that many utilize a similar pragmatic wisdom at the ground level. There’s probably even a divergence between the average evangelical pastor and the views published through books. Certainly elite evangelicals have become/are becoming far more conciliatory to a number of contemporary issues, for better or ill. Such may be, as it has always been for Evangelicals, a kind of phony late-coming.

      You also skate over the attempt by Evangelicals to hold to some doctrine, however paltry, of antithesis with the “culture”, or, in Scriptural terms, the World. Evangelicals trying to be publicly acceptable, looking for a seat at the table, while at the same decrying “the Culture”, manifest a kind of schizophrenia. There’s an admonition of success and failure at the same time. It’s a constant siege mentality, even when you’re winning. I see this fact, and not just Evangelical black-white moralism, as the real engine behind boom-bust. Secularist elite have their own black-white scale, it’s just far more a ‘norma normata’ and well-adjusted to their own circles. It’s a well founded black-white that makes navigating the gray possible, and for Evangelicals, that foundation is in constant crisis mode.


      1. I’m not sure where you’re getting your figures, but most polls show that support for Trump correlates positively with church attendance.

        As for Roy Moore, it’s probably more accurate to say that 40% of evangelicals are more likely to support Moore because of the allegations against him. That may not relate to the merits of the allegations. Rather, it may have to do with the fact that the allegations are coming from outside of the evangelical tribe.

        My point regarding most evangelicals is that their views have more to do with tribalism than anything biblical. Yes, it’s a tribalism that pits them against elite culture. But fewer than 10-20% of evangelicals probably move within elite cultural circles. In that sense, evangelical views on adiaphora are largely consistent with those of the culture in which most evangelicals move. Thus, evangelical views are not really counter-cultural because most evangelicals don’t move within the culture that their views counter. In fact, their opposition to elite culture actually helps to cement their position within the broader alt-right tribe. Non-elite evangelicals are just as conciliatory to their cultural surroundings as elites are to theirs. The only difference is that elites happen to make up a minority within the broader evangelical movement, so they don’t have the political power to declare their efforts at cultural conciliation as “natural” or “biblical.”

        The cultural gulf between non-elites and elites has grown increasingly wider. And both groups have taken steps aimed at at excluding others. This has made it much harder for individuals to maintain one foot within each world. It’s also made it harder to maintain institutions that cross that boundary (at least as trans-boundary institutions). Consider the Nashville Statement. It was a political document, not a theological document. Its principal aim was to exclude elites and to force them to choose between maintaining their elite status or remaining evangelicals. It did this by codifying the particular view of masculinity and gender-role hierarchy that one finds within the broader alt-right movement.

        It’s become increasingly evident to me that the non-elite majority within the evangelical movement wants to define “orthodoxy” in a way that excludes elites. As the late Samuel Huntington noted, cultural affiliation often shapes us far more than we like to believe. It often defines what we view as “natural,” especially if we don’t engage in any degree of cross-cultural experiences. Non-elite evangelicals have assessed that they have sufficient numbers within the evangelical movement to sustain their institutions without the aid of elites. And, whether they say it out loud or not, they’re ready for elites to excuse themselves from the movement.

        It’s unclear at this point where elite evangelicals will land. Poor leadership is partly to blame. Consider Tim Keller. Keller largely ministers to elites, but he insists on maintaining connections with groups like the Gospel Coalition, whose views on gender roles are more closely aligned with those of the alt-right. Keller seems reluctant to ditch alt-rightists like Al Mohler, John Piper, and Doug Wilson, even as he solicits accolades from mainline Protestant seminaries. I suspect that the PCA will move out of the evangelical fold within the coming decade. Its membership has largely already moved in that way. In a 2015 survey, only 39% of PCA members oppose legalized abortion, and only 49% oppose same-sex marriage. And while the denomination doesn’t ordain women to leadership positions, I don’t know a single PCA pastor who holds that conviction personally. But the process of untangling itself from evangelicalism is still taking shape.


        1. I’ll concede the point on Evangelicals. I can’t find it, but I read a poll analysis about a year ago that highlighted a numerical gap between self-pronounced evangelicals and church attendance. There was no dispute over whether evangelicals, as a majority, voted for Trump, it was whether the number was as high as 80%.

          I have doubts about the label of alt-right. How are you defining it? Most uses highlight a racial theme, that it’s a white nationalist movement. There’s ideas on gender in there as well, but that’s somewhat absurd to lump John Piper, or even Al Mohler, into that mix. TGC has been handwringing about Trump from day one, so if the group is, in fact, alt-right, then they’re secretly so.

          As for the split between elites and non-elites, again, here, I have severe doubt. There are many kinds of elites, who are you exactly referring to? I acknowledge there are different sets of elite at different circles of society. There are people within a national bracket of power and there are those who run in a more global circle. It’d be one thing to say that evangelical elites utilize populist tactics, but the cultural divide is, in Marxist terms, ephemera. Out of methodological principle, you’re tossing up red-herrings. Gender division of labor did nothing to prevent evangelical support for Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachman as commander-in-chief. But winning the evangelical vote is not enough to win on a national ticket.

          As a final note, I should say I always like reading your comments. I find your take fascinating and intelligent. But, having said that, I find your view and vision of the church as equally abhorrent as the religious right, and see it as nothing less than a whore straddling the beast. I have no desire to live under the reign of the Tim Kellers of the Earth.


          1. I’m using the term alt-right to refer to the panoply of groups that promote some sort of social hierarchy based on race, sex, religious affiliation, or any combination thereof. Al Mohler’s views on such issues may not be as extreme as those of Richard Spencer, but I do see them as belonging under the same umbrella.

            The Erick Erickson wing of evangelicalism has consistently opposed Trump. But I don’t see that opposition as relating to his promotion of certain alt-right ideologies. Rather, I think they tend to see him as an incompetent fraud who’s likely to do their cause more long-term harm than good. It is true that evangelicals promote social hierarchies based on sex (and gender presentation) more than on race, and that’s a good thing. Even so, they seem to have a fairly high tolerance for those who promote race-based social hierarchy.

            I’m not asking you to live under the reign of Tim Keller. I don’t see it as an either-or. You’re free to submit yourself to the reign of clowns like Harry Reeder, if you want.

          2. How is that different from old-fashion (and by that I mean pre-Goldwater/Buckley) conservatism? It would be sheer anachronism to label Pat Buchanan as a member of the alt-right. There has to be something more substantive to painting the label as uneasy-capitalist traditionalists. TGC is mainly filled with the intellectual grandchildren of Buckley, having passed through Jerry Falwell and the religious right. They are his ungrateful children, who’ve rejected his manner and style for something more granola/hipster/po-mo. It’s still about power, but it’s more soft. Again, how is this Alt-Right? Mohler, along with a cohort of Southern Baptist commentators, are unabashed ideological-militarists and proponents of global capitalism. TGC wants a new Bush; they’re still Neo-Cons in new suits. Trump, for all his bluster and foaming at the mouth, was not that, even if he’s triggered a series of intra-establishment skirmishes. I think there are some subtle, but significant, differences between Trump and Pence, and not just in form and content, that labeling them all as alt-right is obscurantism.

            I like the phrase “Erick Erickson evangelical”. That’s an apt description of the 50’s style Freudian psychoanalysis many practice.

            No, I know you’re not asking me to live under that. In that way, the elite secularist vision of the church is better than the aggressive posture evangelicalism can take, with its soft Dominonism. I just have no desire for a church lauding banksters and corporate lawyers with the voice of a dragon; it blasphemes the name of Christ, even if it does, at least, leave me alone.

  2. I do wonder whether Brad is using anarchy just to mean chaos or that anarchy as a political theory is untenable. If he hasn’t read any anarchist theory I suggest the chapter Police, Law and Courts in For a New Liberty by Rothbard. For a treatment of historical examples of private governance I suggest Ed Stringham’s Private Governance.


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