Christianity and the Public Square

I shall simply say that I affirm, openly and happily, the Christus Victor model of atonement as the central metaphor for salvation (that is, that the gospel concerns the elevation of Jesus to the heavenly Throne, casting down Satan and all the principalities and powers, establishing the Church as His Body and Agent on the earth, and has become King over all the nations, there to rule in heaven until all His enemies are put under His feet. Yes, and amen.

I learned this from a lot of people. N. T. Wright, Stanley Hauerwas, Scot McKnight, etc. Before them, I learned it from Douglas Wilson, Douglas Jones, Peter Leithart, James B. Jordan, Rich Lusk, etc. Before them, I was reading about some of these things from Rousas John Rushdoony and Gary North.

These last two ought to give you pause. If you know their names and are not yourself a Theonomist, they will. Don’t worry, I’m no longer a Theonomist. That’s what this post is about.

The reason people tremble at the names of some of these men is because of the way they announce Jesus’ rule over the nations. Rushdoony was in favor of converting every nation on earth and then have them implement the law of Moses on their subjects, including the civil capital penalties. Gary North, charming man he, took it a step further and advocated executing people by way of the community coming together and stoning them – just like the old days. Such was their version of theocracy, and it included implementing civil sanctions against homosexuals, non-believers, and others.

The great crime of their movement, I believe, is that it makes theocracy scary, turns it into a dirty word. But all it means is that God reigns and the people try to live every aspect of their lives in the light of Him. Eventually this means that communities begin to crop up that pass civil codes that try to do this beyond the individual level. That should only be scary if the God on offer is Someone other than Yahweh. Slow to anger, steadfast to His people, kind and merciful. That’s the sort of God we ought to be living in the light of, but all too often it seems we see God more like some Unitarian Hermit in the Sky than the Triune God of Scripture, who shares and gives of His life freely to all who come and ask, who bestows forgiveness and grace to as many who want it.

That is, the big disconnect I see between what people like the  Theonomists say and the God of the Bible is that the Theonomists have completely forgotten about the call to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus rules the cosmos, yes, but He rules it now the same way He did when He walked the earth two thousand years ago. The difference between Jesus the servant and Jesus the King isn’t that large; He didn’t diss Mammon and power and the way of the Gentiles on earth because He had to do that in order to get all the Mammon and the power and now rules from heaven as the Gentiles do, lording it over others.

So how can we reclaim the non-terrifying word “theocracy” for the Kingdom of God? How can we work in a public square that doesn’t acknowledge that Lordship, and in times when the public square does acknowledge it, how can that public life acknowledge both that Jesus is King of the nations and that we are called to love our neighbors?

Restorative Justice or Divine Wrath?

Fair warning: my musings here are only penultimate thoughts, not rigorous defense of a position I have claimed for my own. That’s what this blog is for: musing and exploring on subjects that often don’t get discussed.

This post concerns atonement theory. It would surprise many evangelicals to hear that the “propitiation of divine wrath” theory is not the only way to construct the nature of salvation. The other popular view is typically referred to as the “nonviolent atonement,” but is better termed “restorative justice.”

The “restorative justice” atonement theory questions the evangelical construction of salvation, which claims that the principal appeasement of Christ on the cross was done in order to alleviate the “wrath of the Father.” We’re so used to hearing the work of Christ explained in this way that any other explanation is likely to sound odd and tin-eared at first. We must be on our guard not to dismiss such issues out of hand as impossible, but attempt to give them a fair hearing.

Doug Jones (Dismissing Jesus, ch. 12) covers this in some detail, and he points past himself to Darrin Belousek’s Atonement, Justice, and Peace for a detailed defense of the “restorative justice” theory.

Boiled down to their basic differences, the two theories work out in this way.

Penal substitution views the central problem solved by salvation to be the wrath of the Father – we sinned and violated the Law of God, therefore He is angered with us and must be appeased by the blood of a human sacrifice (this position is defended by Steve Jeffery et al, Pierced for Our Transgressions).

Restorative Justice views the central problem solved by Christ’s work on the cross to be our enslavement to death and Satan – we were betrayed by Lucifer, sent to help us, and labored under the dominion of spiritual death which leads to sin. In this view, Jesus’ death was not intended to appease the Father through blood-letting, but instead was designed to absorb all the powers of death and evil until their strength was broken, so that their hold over the cosmos was undone.

Notice that these two views aim in opposite directions.

The implications of the penal substitution view is that God is angry with us to such an extent that He must be sated by blood sacrifice. This assumes certain things about how to understand the Mosaic Tabernacle and Temple system, as well as the intention for the sacrifices – namely, that it was by blood sacrifice that sins were forgiven. This view tends to be focused on the individual – Jesus died for each individual, so that they could be atoned for by his blood one at a time.

The implications of the restorative justice view, on the other hand, is that mankind is enslaved to death and Satan, and that Jesus’ intention in dying on the cross was to break the power of these two dominions over man and the cosmos. This view sees the Christus Victor model (aka, Jesus defeated Satan and all the principalities and powers on the cross) as central to Scripture and Jesus’ work on the cross, and it seems as though Scripture is on their side in this:

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8)

And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matt. 12:27-28)

Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. (John 12:31)

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. (Acts 10:38)

And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (Acts 26:14-18)

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil (Heb. 2:14)

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son (Col. 1:13)

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Col. 2:15)

Moreover, what are the implications of seeing divine wrath as the problem to be solved, so that Jesus must come down and appease the Father by way of blood sacrifice? Among other things, it implies that God cannot bear with sin, even though we know that He does, and did, before Christ: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,” (Acts 17:30).

The effect of arguing that God’s own anger is the problem to be solved is to turn God into the Accuser of the faithful. It is God who is prosecuting us for our sins, so Jesus had to come to calm God down by the shedding of his blood in a human sacrifice. But in the great cosmic courtroom drama in Scripture, this is not at all the picture that we are given. God is not the Accuser, God is not the prosecuting attorney. That job falls to Satan (the word satan literally translated means “the accuser.”) Satan is the one who accuses the saints of their shortcomings before a forbearing God in an attempt to get Him to punish His own people, His beloved (Job 12:1-7; Zech. 3:1-2). In the book of Revelation, we see what salvation actually grants to God’s people:

And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. (Rev. 12:9-11)

So we can see that “salvation and the power an the kingdom” arrive precisely because “the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down.” God certainly does judge nations and peoples, but this is never a judgment upon His people. Judgment is reserved for the wicked and unrepentant; that same judgment is a glorious vindication of God’s chosen people.

So the penal substitution view seems to have cast their actors in the wrong parts. God is turned into the Accuser, and Satan for some reason doesn’t much matter, or play much of a role. But a God that accuses His own people of every little stumble does not seem to characterize God very well. “He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever,” (Psa. 103:9). “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities,” (Psa. 103:10).

I need to do more reading on this subject before I come to any firm conclusions, but what is given above ought to at least make us keenly interested in investigating every possible angle to ensure we have not built our understanding of the cross on a mischaracterization of the Father.

10 Problems with Gary North’s Economic Commentaries

The once-icon of the Christian Reconstruction movement, Gary North, has recently completed his economic commentaries on the Bible. The Reconstructionists, whose influence has now practically dwindled to nothing, were among the leaders of pushing Christian political engagement from the Right back into the foreground in the 70s and 80s. Their orientation was hard libertarian, and they have influenced countless others, to the point that libertarianism of some form or another holds a monopoly over conservative Christian homeschooling and much of classical Christian private schooling as well.

Since these were all circles I used to run in, I thought I would point out ten problems I have with the approach North takes in his books. Full disclosure, I’ve read almost all of Dr. North’s books, a project that began back when I was hard libertarian myself and which has continued today. I have read all of the volumes in this economic commentary on the Bible series of his (which is the first series in history to actually approach the Bible economically – for this achievement alone he certainly deserves congratulations).

Yet his approach is replete with difficulties. Let’s look at ten of them.

10. North’s commentaries depend upon a systemic error: That God blesses for obedience and curses for disobedience in history, what he calls “positive sanctions” and “negative sanctions.” He writes, “Covenant theology is also judicial. Itr insistes on broad historical predictability in terms of Bible-revealed covenantal laws to which are attached corporate sanctions,” (Sanctions and Dominion, p. 261). But as Hebrews 12:3-11 makes clear, this application is simplistic in the extreme. God works in such ways as blessings look (and feel) like curses, while what seem to be curses are actually blessings. Like the books of Job, Ecclesiastes, Psalms, and others, Hebrews has the effect of transforming everything into blessing, hardship and abundance both. This has the effect of destroying North’s central thesis: that historical sanctions (blessing for obeying, cursing for disobeying) are rigid and unbending rules of law that become predictable in terms of economic outcome (when Israel obeys they flourish, when they disobey, they suffer).

9. North translates the language of Scripture into the language of modern economics. The difficulty is that modern economics is modern, not ancient. While the basic principles were of course known by the time of Aristotle, modern economics would have been totally unknown to the ancient world or to Moses.

8. North depends upon Western categories. The West may have developed in conversation with the Bible, but there are deep and profound – nay, unbridgeable – gulfs between the two. Western culture is more Greek than Hebrew, particularly when it comes to law and justice. North seems to assume that because the West developed out of a conversation with the Bible, that therefore the categories of the much-later Western world can be read backward into the Bible.

7. North is obsessed with law. The Bible contains very little of what we would call a civil law-code. The Mosaic law, the first example that leaps to mind, is actually closer to fatherly wisdom than a strict law in the modern sense. Treating it as if it were the same as, say, the U.S. tax code, is a substantial error.

6. North’s portrayal of God and covenant is entirely juridical and law-oriented. That is, treating the entire Bible as a commentary on economic principles lends itself to transforming God from a loving father into the premier Austrian economist, more interested in rigid submission to the letter of the law and in maximizing efficiency than in mercy and love. As a result, everything becomes about economic utility. We are treated to these sorts of comments on salvation: “Salvation is not in fixed supply, to be allocated by a central distributor on the basis of competitive bidding,” (Sanctions and Dominion, 167). Tithing is “payment for sacred services rendered,” (168). The result is that God becomes the great economical pharisee in the sky, who forces men to swear self-maladictorial oaths in order to enter into a legal arrangement of the payment of blessings for services rendered.

5. North’s economic observations are often only marginally connected to the passages he deals with. Two examples. On Numbers 31:26-27, ob the spoils of war, North finds that “the modern principle of graduated taxation is anti-biblibal,” going on to argue that “those who receive more income, i.e., entrepreneurs who are at greater risk of losing their wealth, are today required to pay the State a higher percentage of their income than those who earn less income,” (274). All this, despite the fact that his views om taxes are suspect at best, and that taxation is nowhere in view in the passage.

4. North transforms the law of God from justice to efficiency. Notice how he deals with the passage regarding God’s merciful provision of cities of refuge to protect the accused of being killed by the kinsman redeemer: “The costs of perpetual warfare is too high. Such conflicts undermine peace. Too many resources must otherwise be expended to reduce violence. The death of the high priest ended all defensive costs for the suspect…The person so condemned probably would have had to change occupations. He would have had to learn to compete in a completely different environment. This no doubt was an incentive for those working in jobs that involved imposing risk on others to take care of their equipment,” (308). The reason God gave this law was because war “cost” too much. Reducing violence expends “resources.” Since the high priest was going to die anyway, at least his death has the net benefit of ending all “defensive costs” to the suspect. Do you see how pragmatism and efficiency become the overriding factors here? North follows this same procedure everywhere.

3. North everywhere assumes, but nowhere proves, that Austrian economics is Biblical. He writes his commentaries from the perspective of the Austrians for sure, but the result of this is simply seeing it in Scripture because one sees it everywhere. He writes much on ground rent and pricing margins and economic supply and demand in his commentaries, but has not shown that they are explicitly or implicitly present in the texts themselves. He has chapters that rail against central planning, graduated taxation, the moocher class, price controls, and so on, but this does little to further his cause – though it does much to persuade others that he is very good at getting to where he wants to go.

2. North’s scholarship is a good generation behind. A quick glance at North’s sources shows that he relies most heavily upon his own work, Ludwig von Mises, and a number of other economic and theological commentaries, most of them written prior to 1990. The more recent his commentaries, the less he cites other people, relying mostly upon his own commentaries and von Mises. He does not engage the critical scholarship or with other readings of his passages (though he is always happy to derisively dismiss anyone who disagrees with him). He ignores much of the economic and political work being done on the Bible in the last ten years. This creates both the impression that nobody is doing what he is doing, and that no one can refute him.

1. North’s commentaries aren’t, ultimately, about the text. When reading North’s economic commentaries, one is first struck by the almost-desperate way in which he always comes back to his economic perspective. I grant that his commentaries are probably the most detailed defense of reading the Bible with an Austrian lens – but this is reading the Bible in the light of one’s own opinion. It does not allow the Bible to speak for itself. As a result, what North ends up hearing (in the words of N. T. Wright) is merely the echo of his own voice. This approach is one of eisegesis, not exegesis.

Usury

I am appreciative of all the gracious and challenging interaction on my recent post on the parable of the Talents. While I remain convinced that something along the lines I have proposed is the correct reading, the argument needs bolstering in a couple of areas. We’re going to look at usury in this post.

Usury

In the law, usury (charging interest) was forbidden to the poor and needy in Israel (Ex. 22:25; Lev. 25:35-37). After the forty years of the wilderness wandering, however, we begin to see  a shift from mere law-obedience into the application of the law into new situations, known better as wisdom. One of these maturations was with regard to usury. Deuteronomy 23:19 says “You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest.” Notice that this is a universal statement: no believer could charge interest in what he gives or lends to another brother. It is possible this expansion of the law comes as a result of Israel’s reflection on their lowly status with regard to the other nations (Deut. 7:7-8); to God, Israel herself was lowly and in need. Israel was still permitted to lend to the Gentiles (Deut. 23:30), but with regards of any within the covenant, or Gentiles in the land, they were forbidden to lend with interest. Life in the land was to be holy, as God was holy, and God does not lend with interest, but rather gives to his servants freely.

The prophets then take up this expanded application of the usury laws in Deut. 23 and apply it to the abuses during the Kingship period. The righteous man in Ezekiel 18:8 “does not lend at interest or take any profit,” but the wicked man “lends at interest, and takes profit.” Such is called an “abomination” and results in destruction (Ezek. 18:13). Nehemiah accuses the rulers in Israel of exacting usury from their neighbors and brothers (Neh. 5:7,10). Psalm 15:5 declares that the one permitted to dwell in God’s house is the one who does not lend with interest. Proverbs, often the refuge of pro-capitalist writers, even declares in chapter 28 that the rich man who lends with interest is gathering wealth which will be handed over to the man who gives to the poor.

The main intent of these laws appears to be the prevention of men from accumulating and hoarding wealth. God’s principle concern is with the amassing of wealth as a stumbling block to godly living and Israel’s reliance on God Himself for her provision. That is, the conflict over wealth in Israel’s history is one that has to do with faith. Israel could choose to put our trust in God, or in money, but not in both (Matt. 6:23-25).

Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ (Deut. 8:11-17)

This is precisely what happened. Israel forgot that God gave her all the provision that she had, and as a result wanted a King like the other nations. They wanted a King like Pharaoh, a King like Babel, an imperium, a Pax Israelia. God gave them what they wanted, but it came with a stern warning: the King shall not “acquire for himself excessive silver and gold,” (Deut. 17:17). The King which Israel chose, unsurprisingly enough, was a young princeling, the son of Kish, a “man of wealth,” (1 Sam. 9:1). This King, the Kings after the way of the nations, would not rule selflessly and provide for the needs of the people, as Yahweh had done in the wilderness (Deut. 8:1-10). Instead, these kings would take from the people in order to reward his own servants:

He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves, (1 Sam. 8:14-17)

As any reading of Kings and Chronicles makes clear, this is precisely what happened. The Kings of Israel amassed great wealth and oppressed the people they were meant to protect and care for. The prophets arose and called Israel back to the law she had broken, and this featured, extensively, the documentation of her accumulation of wealth. The accumulation of wealth through peaceful business practice was condemned as the sin of Tyre: by “your great wisdom in your trade you have increased your wealth, and your heart has become proud in your wealth,” (Ezek. 28:5). Yet the King of Tyre, the King of this great wealth, is identified with Satan: “You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God. … In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,” (Ezek. 28:16). Tyre’s business wisdom and trade is even denounced as “the unrighteousness of your trade,” (Ezek. 28:18).

There is, of course, much to be said about wealth in Scripture. But we have here identified what we might call the “central theme” of the Bible’s teaching on wealth. It is rare that a positive of wealth is mentioned without its caution or warning, and the negative far outweighs the positive mentions. Our temptation is to emphasize the exceptions and ignore the warnings.

Thus, when we come to Jesus, we must see that He is carrying on in this central theme regarding wealth. “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23). “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful,” (Matt. 13:22). “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on,” (Mark 12:43-44). “he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty,” (Luke 1:53). “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation,” (Luke 6:24). “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God,'” (Luke 12:20-21). “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you,” (Luke 14:12-14). “‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt,” (Matt. 18:32-34).

Usury is forbidden because it is wealth acquired without effort, an increase without an output. It is essentially a fee taken from one who already has need of help. It is “easy money.” Such money, the Bible says, is extremely dangerous because it tempts us to believe we have provided for ourselves and made ourselves rich. It leads us directly into self-reliance, which leads to doubt and lack of faith. For if you can provide for yourself, what need is there to depend upon God?

The Failures of Capitalism

Once you get any kind of distance out of the conservative/libertarian enclave, one of the first things you notice about it is the patronizing tone. A good example of this is one of Doug Wilson’s recent posts, on how N. T. Wright answered a question. Wright was saying that the alliance between conservative theology and conservative politics is a unique trait of American Christianity.

Wilson admitted this was the case as an historical fact, but took issue with whether this meant that the American alliance is wrong. Obviously, as a good libertarian, Wilson thinks we ought to pony up to capitalism and embrace the political right. In so doing, he reveals this patronization (not to mention a good deal of arrogance) typical of all libertarians. Here are a few offerings.

“It is good that we are saved by grace, and not by works. If it were by works, our economic incompetence would leave a bunch of us hosed.”

Obviously, these guys are the other guys, those icky leftists.

“When Jesus taught us to feed the poor, instead of turning their place of habitation into a desolation, this necessarily excludes every form of Keynesianism.”

“We might conclude, for example, that Jesus doesn’t care what our economic policies are, so long as we love Him. Or we might decide that those who are conservative in their economics need to quit it, and become progressive, because that’s what Jesus wants. Or we might go the other way, and say that the progressives ought to become conservatives, also in the name of Jesus. The correct answer, boys and girls, is the last one.”

“All such meddling is economic stupidity, and God did not tell His people to fan out over the globe, doing stupid things to people.”

“If the world’s poor could be fed with leftist ignorance of economics, the world would have been satiated generations ago.”

Yes, anyone who is not a libertarian is ignorant of economics. Gosh, those darn leftists sure are stupid. Can’t they crack a book once in a while? Not only is this supremely unhealthy, not only does this merge affirmation of the gospel with the gospel of libertarian economics and conservative politics, but it betrays just the sort of parochial attitude which Wilson suspects his opponents view him as holding. Yes, well spotted. It is parochial to confuse one’s own opinion with an absolute claim on “the way the world works.” When Wilson says “leftists don’t understand economics,” what he really means to say is that “a number of other people don’t agree with the economic model I have chosen to self-identify with.”

It is also remarkable how much at odds such an understanding is with what seems to be what is going on in the world today. (And please notice that I did not say, “Wilson doesn’t understand economics at all.”) But to claim that the real world supports libertarian economics is a highly questionable assertion, one that must remain an assertion because he assumes the correctness of his position and therefore any problems in the world must be created by the other guy. Now, I have no love for Keynsianism personally, but as John Medaille (Toward a Truly Free Market) points out repeatedly, capitalism doesn’t work.

What, precisely, does a capitalist mean when he says that capitalism works? Simply this: that the capitalist system can provide a relatively stable and prosperous economic order without a lot of government interference in the market. That is to say, capitalism is basically self-regulating and needs no outside force, such as government , to balance supply and demand and ensure prosperity.

Yet, this has been repeatedly shown not to be the case.

the plain fact of the matter is that capitalism cannot function without government interference. Capitalism relies on an expanded state to balance aggregate supply and demand. Consider this fact: in the period from 1853 to 1953, the economy was in recession or depression fully 40 percent of the time. Since 1953 the economy has been in recession only 15 percent of the time.

That is to say, when Keynsianism was introduced into the economy in 1953, it was done in order to stabilize the inherently unstable capitalism that preceded it. And at this Keynsianism worked effectively, or at least effectively enough. The implications are numerous, including that so long as we want to have a capitalist system, we must be prepared to accept larger government, and Keynsian economics, which works to stabilize our economy. To put it another way: libertarians claim to want less regulation and unfettered capitalism given free reign, but the reality is that such a move actively destabilizes our market system and causes problems for everyone. To put it yet another way: capitalism itself depends for its existence upon large government, its practices actively grow and expand government, and it causes the problems with which our system is currently plagued. In short, it does the opposite of what its claimants say it will do.

Why do they keep saying it, then? Because the capitalist ideology depends upon theoretical operations of economic “laws of nature” just the same as laws of gravity or physics or mathematics. Wilson is at odds with his great Austrian instructors when he says that we can just look around and see the glories and effectiveness of capitalism around us. Ludwig von Mises, the founder of modern Austrianism, wrote

The economist does not base his theories upon historical research, but upon theoretical thinking like that of the logician or the mathematician. … he does not learn directly from history.” (von Mises, Ultimate Foundations of Economic Science, p. 73)

So much for falsifiability and concrete historical observation. Such abstractionism is blind to the world, so naturally we have difficulty convincing him that his theories do not work in practical application. The theory seems sound, they say, so the problems must come from interference. It couldn’t possibly be that capitalism is a failure and has to be subsidized by government spending and Keynsianism in order to simply continue functioning. Wilson says he has opposed crony capitalism from the start, which is all well fine and good, but the most pressing question does not seem to be one he has seriously asked himself.

Is it possible that all capitalism is crony capitalism? Is it possible that Medaille is correct when he writes, about the failure of capitalism, “I do not mean that there are certain imperfections in it, or that from time to time it experiences difficulties.” Rather, he means that the problems are systemic to the theory itself.

The Age to Come

Some good observations from Andrew Perriman (The Coming of the Son of Man, pp. 83-86) on the “age to come” in New Testament thought.

The word aion occurs most frequently in biblical Greek in such phrases as eis ton aiona (“for the age”), eis tous aionas (“for the ages”), or more emphatically eis ton aiona tou aionos (“for the age of the age”). The meaning of these expressions is simply “forever” – but “forever” conceived as an unending extension of some particular historical circumstance, not as “eternity,” which carries with it the clear connotation of time beyond death or beyond history. To give a mundane example: in the law of Moses, if a Hebrew slave chose not to be freed after six years, his master would bore his ear with an awl, and he would serve him eis ton aiona – not for eternity, but for life (Exod. 21:6 LXX). The adjective aionios is used in the same way…

If the “age to come” is the age that follows the collapse of Second Temple Judaism, what are we to understand by the phrase zoe aionios? Instinctively, we read this as a reference to “eternal life” with God in heaven, but as we work through this material, we find ourselves increasingly blown by the winds of interpretation in the direction of a more realistic and “worldly” understanding. When Jesus promises his followers that they will inherit the “life of the age,” he must mean the life that will be experienced by the people of God following the climax at the end of the age, following the judgment on Israel [in A.D. 70 – ATR], the life that will last throughout the age which is to come – and which has now come. It is the life in the Spirit that is given to the people of God following suffering, death, and resurrection (cf. Dan. 12:2).

To summarize: the “age to come” is the age that we now live in, the age of the eschatological Church and her reign on the earth which the Old Testament saints expected and waited patiently for and which Jesus and the New Testament apostles expected to arrive within a generation of the time of their ministries. This is about material, physical life dwelling in the light of the Spirit, experiencing the life of the Spirit in the gathered people of God, the Church.

This is not to say that there will not be a final judgment and a physical return of Christ at some point in our future, as Perriman emphatically argues – rather, it means that our understanding of the New Testament, the eschatological bits of Isaiah and the other prophets, and the later parts of Revelation in a new light as being present now on earth in the form of the Church, and one day in literal fullness at some future point in history. Jesus and the apostles spoke of the beginning of the “age to come.” They rarely have any interest in questions as far distant as a final judgment of all history many thousands of years in their future.