Category Archives: Church and State

Challenging the Spirit of Modernity: A Study of Groen van Prinsterer’s Unbelief and Revolution

I appreciate the good people at Lexham Press sending a copy of this new volume for review (without any expectations for the tone or the outcome of that review).  And for also sending this work (which of course is the precursor of the new volume and its presupposition).

Dutch politician and historian Groen van Prinsterer’s Unbelief and Revolution is a foundational work addressing the inherent tension between the church and secular society. Writing at the onset of modernity in Western culture, Groen saw with amazing clarity the dire implications of abandoning God’s created order for human life in society. Groen’s work served as an inspiration for many contemporary theologians, and he had a profound impact on Abraham Kuyper’s famous public theology.

In Challenging the Spirit of Modernity, Harry Van Dyke places this seminal work into historical context, revealing how this vital contribution still speaks into the fractured relationship between religion and society. A deeper understanding of the roots of modern secularism and Groen’s strong, faithful response to it gives us a better grasp of the same conflict today.


Groen van Prinsterer’s Unbelief and Revolution is a foundational work addressing the inherent tension between religion and modernity. As a historian and politician, Groen was intimately familiar with the growing divide between secular culture and the church in his time. Rather than embrace this division, these lectures, originally published in 1847, argue for a renewed interaction between the two spheres. Groen’s work served as an inspiration for many contemporary theologians, and as a mentor to Abraham Kuyper, he had a profound impact on Kuyper’s famous public theology.

Harry Van Dyke, the original translator, reintroduces this vital contribution to our understanding of the relationship between religion and society.

The primary source titled ‘Unbelief and Revolution’ is here published in a very fine English translation and it includes a thorough introduction and a very important contextualization of van Pristerer’s timely and abidingly relevant work.  In his book, v.P. describes the history of western Europe from the French Revolution through 1845 and the rise of secularism.  It is a work which sees the secularization of the West as the downfall of the West.  Unbelief and revolution (in the sense of a turning away from institutions like the Christian Church) go hand in hand.  They belong to one another and they feed upon one another.  v.P.’s views are succinctly stated in the 13th lecture, where he writes of the years 1789-1794 that they…

… show us the depth of our depravity.  They show us what becomes of a man when a portion of Christian truth, its origin and essence denied, is made serviceable to a false principle: the poisonous seed of error, sown in the well prepared soil, multiplies tenfold and, with circumstances co-operating, bears fruit a hundredfold.

V.P.’s volume, then, strives to show the ultimate danger of Modernity.  History has borne him out.

The second volume of the two here under examination is a detailed study of v.P.’s ‘Unbelief and Revolution’.  It was written by the translator of v.P.’s volume and accordingly was undertaken by a person superbly qualified to understand the sense, aims, and achievements of v.P.’s book.

Herein readers are introduced to the historical period of v.P.’s work and provided a brief biography of the theologian.  Further, the sources and audience of the work are described, along with the style, argument, and editions of the work.

Next, van Dyke compares the first and second editions and various translations of the volume.  And finally, in chapter 13, the controversial issues which the volume addresses.

The second volume also provides a bibliography, an index of names, an index of subjects, and an index of Scripture references.

Van Dyke’s style is informative and engaging and the information he provides is excellent and accurate.  His ability to tell the story of a man, his era, and his work is peerless.

Historical theology matters, and these two volumes are excellent examples of the sources and examination of sources necessary for historical theology to be undertaken and explained.

But most importantly, there are political and cultural ramifications intertwined here as well.  It’s one thing to observe history from afar as though one were a mere disinterested observer.  V.P.’s entire aim is to summon Christians to the examination of history so as to effect changes they deem necessary.  Not in order to ‘bring about a theocracy, but in order to recognize the connection between religion, authority, and freedom’ (as the prefatory note has it).

These two works belong together on the shelves of those interested in theology, and those interested in politics.  And it especially belongs on the shelves of those who are concerned about the theology of politics.

Today in Puritan History

On Sunday, October 8, 1586, twenty-one [Puritans] were meeting at Henry Martin’s house in the parish of St Andrew’s-in-the-Wardrobe, and, as they were listening to the reading of the Scriptures by John Greenwood, they were broken in upon by the bishop of London’s pursuivants and brought as prisoners the same day to his palace at Fulham for examination. In the event ten were released and eleven kept close prisoners; of the eleven thus detained Alice Roe and Margaret Maynard died of the ‘infection’ of Newgate, and John Chandler, and Nicholas Crane, an aged man of sixty-six years, also died in prison.

Being a Puritan was tough work.

A Word to those Seeking Political Power

As often as not imperial office and the exercise of its power become the excuse for pride. [ . . . ] Those however who strut on the stage of life because of imperial office [ . . . ] stay no longer within the bounds of human nature, but assume divine power and authority. They believe they have sovereignty over life and death because to some of those who are judged by them they give sentence of acquittal, while others they condemn to death; and they do not even consider who is truly the sovereign of human life and determines both the beginning of existence and its end. – Gregory of Nyssa

The Zurich Antistes: Because You Want To See Them

So here they are:


Educate Your Children in the Faith Or They Will Lose Their Citizenship

The Council of the City of Geneva was serious about carrying Reform forward, so on 30 January, 1537, it passed a decree as follows:

… ‘those persons who had children at schools not in Geneva, should have them brought into that town or placed in other Christian schools; that otherwise the said children would be deprived of citizenship.’

Or, in other words, educate your children in the faith or they will lose their citizenship.  Oh for the good old days…

How a Pope Refusing to Pay a Debt Angered a Population and Made Reformation Possible

A thousand little details led to the causes of the Reformation in Zurich.  One was Zwingli’s unwillingness to support mercenary service.  Another was the desire of the Council to expand its own authority vis-a-vis Rome.  Still another was the anger of the populace about a payment to the City that Rome never made.  Here are the brief details:

On January 9, 1522, Adrian VI., the Dutch Pope, entered on his office. Known to him was the independent stand taken by Zurich, but shrewdly and kindly, for Adrian was a good man, he wrote to the Zurich authorities a pleasant letter, in which he expressed no blame, but on the contrary promised to pay the debt the papal treasury owed Zurich, when in funds. Well were it if it had been, for the money was not forthcoming, and the fact embittered the people against the papacy.

Would Zurich have broken completely with Rome if Adrian had paid?  Would the city have supported Zwingli?  It’s hard to say.  It is, though, important to remember that nothing ever happens because of one simple reason.  Not even Reformation.

Today in Church History

The Lutheran princes, the Landgrave of Hesse, and others met on December 22, 1530, at Schmalkalden, a town in the present Prussian province of Hesse-Nassau, twenty miles south-west of Gotha, and resolved to make formal protest against the decree of the Diet [of Augsburg] and against the crowning of Ferdinand of Austria as German King, and to stand by one another in case any of them was attacked, just as they had met in the previous year (November 25, 1529) in the same place to protest against the decree of the Diet of Spires. As neither of these protests was listened to, on March 29, 1531, the Protestants joined themselves into a League.

In this combination the prime mover was Zwingli’s advocate, the Landgrave of Hesse, and as component parts were South German cities in which Zwingli’s doctrines had been accepted. It was, therefore, expected that the Swiss cities would accept the invitation of the Elector of Saxony, coming thus endorsed by so many of their friends, and enter into this League. But once more the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper was an obstacle to union. The Elector went so far as to accept the Tetrapolitan creed on this point.  So it was hoped by those who wished the Swiss cities to join the League, that Zwingli would let its eucharistic teaching pass without protest. But Zwingli was not so inclined, any more than Luther was. He said:

“The business of the truth is not to be deserted, even to the sacrifice of our lives. For we live not for this age of ours, nor for the princes, but for the Lord. To admit for the sake of the princes any thing that will diminish or vitiate the truth is silly, not to say impious. To have held fast to the purpose of the Lord is to conquer all adversaries.”*

It’s a shame, really, that more pastors and theologians don’t understand that doing things just to please the State is evil.

*Samuel Macauley Jackson, Huldreich Zwingli: The Reformer of German Switzerland (1484–1531) (Heroes of the Reformation; New York; London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons; Knickerbocker Press, 1901), 336–338.

The Latest from the Zurich Blog

Here’s an interesting essay:

Die Reformierten sind stolz auf das „prophetische Wächteramt“. Sie verstehen sich als eine Kirche, die sich nicht in den Winkel frommer Innerlichkeit zurückzieht, sondern sich einmischt, politisch Stellung bezieht, sich auf die Seite der Schwachen und Entrechteten schlägt. Immer wieder hört man denn auch den Ruf, die Kirche müsste mutiger auftreten, deutlich Kante zeigen, ihre prophetische Funktion beherzter wahrnehmen. „Mehr Prophetie wagen“, riet der deutsche Journalist Matthias Drobinski den kriselnden Kirchen unlängst.

Ich bin ebenfalls stolz, wenn meine Kirche klar Stellung nimmt, besonders dann, wenn sie sich damit auch gegen Mehrheiten stellt. Trotzdem habe ich meine Mühe mit dem Begriff des prophetischen Wächteramts. Der Begriff kommt mir zu gross vor für das, was wir als Kirche tun, wenn wir uns in der öffentlichen Diskussion vernehmen lassen. Mehr noch: Der Begriff erscheint mir aus der Zeit gefallen. In einer schlechten Weise nicht mehr zeitgemäss. Warum?


Der Film zum Jubiläum von 500 Jahre Reformation in Zürich

Gregory of Nyssa Lambasts The Power of Politicians

This is an essential read.  It’s a profoundly important theological reminder of the Christian’s duty in society and specifically towards political power.

The Cappadocian Church father Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-395 AD) frequently attacks political power and domination in different forms. He does not present a systematic political philosophy, but there is a range of underlying theological, anthropological and moral philosophical ideas at play in Gregory’s criticism. Especially important is Gregory’s theological anthropology, and the unity of humankind. In this article it is argued that Gregory’s political thinking can be described as “anarchism,” in so far this is defined as the universal rejection of all kinds of domination and the identification of justice with any positive political state of affairs.

Get the pdf while you can.

A New Series from Fortress

This new series, Ad fontes, looks to have a good deal of potential.

When Peasants Rebel


Here’s Something About the Confessing Church You Probably Didn’t Know…

978-3-525-55789-1Nimmt man die beiden für die Bekennende Kirche besonders einschlägigen Publikationen zur Hand, die „Junge Kirche“ und die Reihe „Theologische Existenz heute“, so ist für unser Thema weitgehend Fehlanzeige zu vermelden. Kein Heft der „Theologischen Existenz heute“ nimmt das Thema auf und auch in der „Jungen Kirche“ finden sich nur zwei Beiträge, auf die noch einzugehen sein wird.

Wie wenig zentral dieses Thema für die Bekennende Kirche war, ist auch daran zu erkennen, dass sich kein Exponent der Bekennenden Kirche zu „Luther und die Juden“ zu Wort meldete, vielmehr waren es eher unbekannte, allenfalls regional bedeutsame Personen, die zur Feder griffen. Auch wenn die Frage nach der Einführung eines „Arierparagraphen“ mit zur Gründung der Jungreformatorischen Bewegung und dann auch des Pfarrernotbundes wesentlich beitrug – und damit im Vorfeld der sich gründenden Bekennenden Kirche eine wichtige Rolle spielte –, so standen bei dieser Auseinandersetzung kirchengeschichtliche Aspekte wie Luthers Haltung zu den Juden ganz im Hintergrund.

What a grand volume this has turned out to be.  My review will appear in the next couple of days.

Theologen des Judenhasses

Viele Deutsche haben versagt im Nationalsozialismus – auch Theologen. In Eisenach versuchte das sogenannte “Entjudungsinstitut” alles auszumerzen, was jüdisch ist im Christentum. Heute wächst die Kritik in der evangelischen Kirche am Umgang mit dieser Vergangenheit – nicht nur am 27. Januar, dem Holocaust-Gedenktag.

Must reading.

The Birth Anniversary of Martin Niemöller

Fewer people made a firmer stand against Nazism than M.N.  He was an amazingly impressive and courageous man.niemoller

Martin Niemöller wurde am 14. Januar 1892 in Lippstadt geboren. Er wuchs in einem Pfarrhaus auf. 1910 schlug er eine Offizierslaufbahn in der kaiserlichen Marine ein und nahm am Ersten Weltkrieg als Marineoffizier teil. Nach dem Theologiestudium wurde er 1923 Geschäftsführer der westfälischen Inneren Mission in Münster und 1931 Pfarrer in Berlin-Dahlem. Seit 1933 war er Mitbegründer, führendes Mitglied und kompromissloser Verfechter der Bekennenden Kirche.

Als deutschnationaler Gegner der Weimarer Republik wählte Martin Niemöller schon früh die NSDAP. In den ersten Monaten des Jahres 1933 setzte er große Hoffnungen in das neue Regime. Schnell erkannte er jedoch, dass die Nationalsozialisten der Kirche ihre Unabhängigkeit nehmen würden. Schon bald wurde er im In- und Ausland zur Symbolfigur des kirchlichen Widerstands gegen Hitler. Dieser Widerstand richtete sich gegen die Deutschen Christen und die nationalsozialistische Kirchenpolitik. So unterstützte er bei der Reichsbischofswahl im Frühjahr 1933 Friedrich von Bodelschwingh gegen den von Hitler protegierten Deutschen Christen Ludwig Müller. Als die Deutschen Christen im Sommer 1933 in fast allen Landeskirchen die Macht übernommen hatten und den „Arierparagraph“ einführten, gründete er im Herbst 1933 den Pfarrernotbund, eine Selbsthilfeorganisation für oppositionelle Pfarrer. Von Anfang an war er eine zentrale Gestalt in der Bekennenden Kirche.

Seine Überzeugungen von einer streng nach den Beschlüssen der Reichsbekenntnissynoden geordneten evangelischen Kirche vertrat er ebenso kompromisslos wie seine Kritik an der nationalsozialistischen Kirchenpolitik und den staatlichen Verfolgungsmaßnahmen gegen die Bekennende Kirche. Für die Nationalsozialisten galt Niemöller als Staatsfeind. Im Januar 1934 wagte er es, Hitler bei einem Empfang von Kirchenvertretern zu widersprechen. Er sagte ihm ins Gesicht, dass sich die Kirche die Verantwortung für das deutsche Volk nicht abnehmen lassen könne. 1935 wandte er sich in seinen Predigten gegen jede Art der Verfolgung, auch von Juden. Wenn der Staat befehle, etwas Böses zu tun, müssten die Christen Gott mehr gehorchen als den Menschen. Als sich die BK 1936 spaltete, hielt er sich zu ihrem „radikalen“ Teil, der jede Beteiligung an den kirchenpolitischen Maßnahmen des Staates verweigerte.

Am 27. Juni 1937 predigte er zum letzten Mal in Berlin-Dahlem. Dabei prangerte er die jüngst über die Bekennende Kirche hereingebrochene Verhaftungswelle an und verkündete, die Kirche werde auf menschliche Anordnung hin nicht verschweigen, was Gott zu sagen befohlen habe: Denn es bleibt und wird dabei bleiben, solange die Welt steht: ‚Man muß Gott mehr gehorchen als den Menschen‘! Kurz darauf wurde er von der Gestapo verhaftet.

Kaum ein evangelischer Pfarrer änderte seine Überzeugungen nach Kriegsende so radikal wie Martin Niemöller. Der begeisterte Marineoffizier wurde zum Pazifisten. Der Abkömmling einer antisemitischen Tradition wandelte sich zum Gegner jeder Form des Rassismus. Der kaisertreue Monarchist verstand sich an seinem Lebensende schließlich als Revolutionär. Gleich blieb aber die Kompromisslosigkeit, mit der er seine Ansichten vertrat. Die Gründung der Bundesrepublik lehnte er ab, da sie für ihn die deutsche Teilung besiegelte. Dem neuen westdeutschen Staat warf er schäbigsten Materialismus vor. Vehement sprach er sich gegen die Wiederbewaffnung und die Stationierung von Atomwaffen aus. Er war Teilnehmer am ersten Ostermarsch 1958 in England und wurde in der deutschen Friedensbewegung aktiv. Bei seinen zahlreichen Auslandsreisen besuchte er während des Kalten Krieges mehrfach kommunistische Länder. Sein Verhalten war stets polarisierend und brachte ihm unter Politikern, Theologen und in der Bevölkerung viele Gegner ein. Er selbst sah sich dabei stets von der Frage geleitet: „Was würde Jesus dazu sagen?“ Kurz vor seinem Tod im Alter von 92 Jahren am 6. März 1984 in Wiesbaden bemerkte er dazu, wer diese Frage für sich beantworte und sich danach richte, sei keinem genehm.

Bildnachweis © Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Bildnummer 30011224.  Weitere Informationen zu Martin Niemöller finden sie unter:

Calvin Was Long Dead, So You Can’t Blame Him…

Antitrinitarians: Not Welcome Here-



Christliche Stimmen im Advent (1)
In Christus verbunden – Ein Brief Helmut Gollwitzers

Der erste Artikel der Beitragsreihe „Christliche Stimmen im Advent“ gilt dem Pfarrer und Theologieprofessor Helmut Gollwitzer (*29.12.1909 in Pappenheim – ✝17.10.1993 in Berlin). Gollwitzer beteiligte sich aus der Wehrmacht heraus an der Seelsorge für die von der Deportation bedrohten Dahlemer Gemeindeglieder. Im November 1941 schrieb er:

„Meine Gedanken und meine Gebete gehen mit den Euren zu allen, die jetzt von der Gemeinde getrennt sind: sie gehen zu denen, die im Dienst des Krieges stehen im Osten und an den anderen Fronten, sie gehen zu denen, die Advent dieses Jahres in der Abgetrenntheit der Haft erleben, sie gehen zu denen, die aus fernen Ländern zu uns her denken […]

Gollwitzer unterstützte seit 1938 Hilfsaktionen für verfolgte Juden. Auch stand er mit führenden Persönlichkeiten des militärischen Widerstands in Kontakt.

Im Zweiten Weltkrieg diente er als Sanitäter. Die Jahre 1945 bis 1949 verbrachte Gollwitzer in sowjetischer Kriegsgefangenschaft. Nach seiner Heimkehr wurde er Professor für Systematische Theologie in Bonn und an der Freien Universität Berlin. Er war bis zu seinem Tod im Jahr 1993 ein unermüdlicher Träger und Förderer des christlich-jüdischen Dialogs.

Quelle: Brief Gollwitzers vom November 1941
© Evangelisches Zentralarchiv in Berlin, Bestand 686 Nr. 7672


How Church History Can Inform Christians Concerning the Kim Davis Affair

There’s nothing new under the sun- not even Christians working for the State and the inevitable conflicts which that guarantees. The Anabaptists in particular struggled with this issue. Allow me to cite material from Anabaptist history:

The early Anabaptists struggled with how they should relate to the government. Although they did not all hold the same opinions, there was general agreement that this was a very important issue. On one hand the Anabaptists believed that joining a church should be a voluntary, adult decision. On the other, they knew that people have no control over where or into which country they were born. They saw that sometimes the commitments to country and church pulled them in different directions. Some things demanded by the government did not seem right for a Christian member of the church, and the other way around. The Anabaptists agreed that their commitment to the church was more important than that to their country or ruler.

Sounds like the view of many Christians today, doesn’t it?

Early Anabaptists explained this by speaking about “two kingdoms.” They saw the world as divided into the kingdom of the “world” and the kingdom of God (“heaven,” or Christ). All agreed that Christians should be loyal to the kingdom of God, even if this meant disagreeing with those in power. The question was, how should these two “kingdoms” relate to each other in the lives of a Christian.

How did some Christians resolve this question?

Probably the most famous Anabaptist position was that of Michael Sattler. Sattler thought that these two kingdoms should be kept totally separate. Once someone decided to become a Believer and receive adult baptism, his loyalty shifted away from his country or ruler to Christ and the church. Christians were required to be utterly obedient to God by following the example of Jesus. Thus, in Sattler’s view, Christians could not hold public office or participate in war – they could not be a judge, ruler, or soldier. As the principal writer of the Schleitheim Confession, Sattler had an enormous influence on the Swiss/South German Anabaptist tradition.

The Schleitheim Confession states

Finally it will be observed that it is not appropriate for a Christian to serve as a magistrate because of these points: The government magistracy is according to the flesh, but the Christian’s is according to the Spirit; their houses and dwelling remain in this world, but the Christian’s are in heaven; their citizenship is in this world, but the Christian’s citizenship is in heaven; the weapons of their conflict and war are carnal and against the flesh only, but the Christian’s weapons are spiritual, against the fortification of the devil. The worldlings are armed with steel and iron, but the Christians are armed with the armor of God, with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation and the Word of God. In brief, as in the mind of God toward us, so shall the mind of the members of the body of Christ be through Him in all things, that there may be no schism in the body through which it would be destroyed. For every kingdom divided against itself will be destroyed. Now since Christ is as it is written of Him, His members must also be the same, that His body may remain complete and united to its own advancement and upbuilding.

It is the notion that a house divided against itself cannot stand that becomes the overarching theological principle. Can Christians, then, be divided in loyalties between the Church and the State? The answer given will depend on the person giving it. For many Christians, it is no. Each has to answer, however, according to their own conscience.