Saturday 15 November 2008

Yoder against Kuyper

The Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper advocated “sphere sovereignty” – a theory famously summed up in his statement, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” The political implications of this theory are articulated in Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism (and, more concretely, in the social and legal arrangements of apartheid in South Africa).

John Howard Yoder rightly argues that such a concept of Christ’s lordship – in which Christians are called to participate in every sphere of life – represents a complete reversal of the New Testament witness. In his book Discipleship As Political Responsibility (Herald Press, 2003), Yoder writes:

“It is remarkable how the meaning of Christ’s lordship has been reversed in modern ecumenical discussion. In New Testament times the lordship of Christ meant that even that which is pagan, the state, was under God’s rule. Today exactly the same expression means that Christians have been sent into all areas of public life, including every political position, and that there as Christians they are to do their duties according to the rules of the state – in other words, the opposite of the meaning in the New Testament” (pp. 62-63).


Anonymous said...

Really?! While no Kuyperian myself, I have to think that Yoder's "to do their duties according to the rules of the state" is about as flat-footed and uncharitable a description as could be offered. All the Kuyperian sympathizers I know would reject this characterization in the strongest terms. I really don't think this sort of mischaracterization advances understanding.

JHG said...


Can you give me some resources on how the concept of "sphere sovereignty" is seen concretely in the social and legal arrangements of apartheid in South Africa? A book suggestion perhaps? That statement is beyond my knowledge, and I would really like to see that fleshed out.


James Grant

darren said...

yeah i would second James' request and desire to see that idea fleshed out. i assume the argument is more than just "the Dutch Calvinists in South Africa contributed to apartheid, so we can infer their theology led to this" because that would be disappointing!

Ben Myers said...

I'm no expert on this, but I think there's quite a lot of scholarship on the relation between apartheid and Kuyper's theology — for a start, you could see P. J. Strauss, "Abraham Kuyper, Apartheid, and Reformed Churches in South Africa in Their Support of Apartheid," Theological Forum 23:1 (1995), 4-27. And a quick search of Google Books also brings up various studies.

Chris TerryNelson said...

I am not a Kuyper scholar either, but most of the Kuyperians I know would agree that they are sent into all spheres of the world as witnesses to Christ as their true Lord, and that there is still a counter-cultural judgment against the rules of the state when they are not faithful to those of Christ.

What does Yoder mean by "the rules of the state"?

Yoder makes it sound like Kuyper ends up baptizing the rules of the state. But perhaps he's really trying instead deny the idea of Christ's Lordship over the state as a kind of baptizing of the sphere of the state. That is, the idea that we are sent into ALL spheres of life already admits a theological necessity for those spheres, and Yoder wouldn't allow such a move in the first place. So whereas Kuyper allows for Christian Reform within those spheres (changing the rules of the state to be "as Christian as possible"), Yoder denies the Christian's participation with them because those spheres deny Christ's Lordship. Is that it?

Chris TerryNelson said...

Sorry, that 2nd sentence in the last paragraph should read:
"But perhaps he's sees Kuyper's idea of Christ's Lordship over the state as a kind of baptizing of the sphere of the state once and for all."

Anonymous said...

Perhaps rather than saying "The political implications of this theory are articulated...more concretely, in the social and legal arrangements of apartheid in South Africa" it would be better to supply the example of turn of the century Netherlands, where Kuyper was Prime Minister and provided his own concrete demonstration of his political theology.

Anonymous said...

"and that there as Christians they are to do their duties according to the rules of the state"

Ben, I ask you to give one example of a Kuyperian who believes this. As far as I know, Kuyperians mean exactly what Yoder says the NT means - that every square inch of creation is under God's rule.

Unknown said...

As I understand it, sphere sovereignty rests upon a certain appeal to a divinely created order underlying the various social institutions. Divine sovereignty thus functions according to these "orders of creation," whereby each institutional sphere is given to fulfill or embody this sovereignty according to a specific mandate from God, without transgressing its mandated boundaries of "rule."

Here is the rub, it seems to me, with what Yoder is saying. Certainly, no Kuyperian would deny that "every square inch of creation is under God's rule." But according to "sphere sovereignty" that rule is understood and articulated according to the theory of an inherently "good" creation, with its own sovereign (and "spherical") integrity. And so the Kuyperian could say, it seems to me, that every sphere (even that of the state) operates according to its own ordained "rules," and that the Christian is obedient to the sovereignty of God precisely by operating according to those rules. But what Yoder would reject to is the seemingly naive and benign understanding of "the state" (or any social-institutional sphere -- "the family," "the economy," etc.) here as that of what he calls "a rational non-ideological administrative instrument." This non-ideological facticity presumes the fact-value dichotomy which he insists underlies and serves all forms of Constantinianism.

By contrast, Yoder insists that the sovereignty of God is best understood not according to given orders of creation, but rather eschatologically, according to the inbreaking of the new creation and the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ. Sovereignty is a matter (to borrow Bonhoeffer's phrasing) of that "ultimate" event whereby the "penultimate" structures of this world (the powers and principalities) are subverted and their subversion is made to be a sign of their giving way in the face of that singular, concrete reality that is alone positively independent of them: Jesus Christ. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to live precisely by way of such independence.

It is this that I have never understood Kuyperians as being able to affirm.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant Nate. For that helpful explanation, I'll buy your book

Chris TerryNelson said...

It certainly does seem to be the blogging equivalent of an alley-oop between Ben and Nate. :-)

Unknown said...


Thank you. I am grateful. Genuinely.


Well, it certainly wasn't a designed play! But since I like to think of myself as partly responsible for Ben reading Yoder right now, and because what I wrote above is partly dependent upon some writing that Ben has been doing on the doctrine of creation lately, I suppose it was not entirely "unrehearsed"! ;-)

Anonymous said...

By way of supplement to Nate's "apocalyptic" - ;) - intervention ...

I don't know Kuyper's theology well enough to comment on what he is for, but I think I know Yoder's well enough to say what he is against - any political theology that (a) has imperialistic-theocratic ambitions and hankers after neo-Christendom, and (b) doesn't reckon with Paul's "principalities and powers" (William Stringfellow observes that even the church can become a principality). Does Kuyper err in these directions? (Btw, check out the Religious Right in the US as well as the apartheid Dutch Reformed Church.)

Thom Stark said...

It might be helpful, also, to point out that elsewhere (e.g., in For the Nations), Yoder allows for the possibility of Christians participating in government roles. He does not have a principled objection to this. Echoing Nate, the logic Yoder takes issue with, especially in the passage Ben cited, is the Lutheran logic of the two kingdoms, in which the Christian in the church is operating within a different moral sphere than the Christian in the government. This is the logic Yoder rejects as a subversion of the ancient kerygma of Christ's lordship. But Yoder is not rejecting the idea of Christian participation in government, per se.

Anonymous said...

Nate, thanks for that explanation... helps to clarify a lot for me.

As I understand 'Sphere Sovereignty', one of the principal understandings is that the spheres are essentially separate from each other. I was taught an Ethics course by a Hauerwas student (and we used MacIntyre for the text), and one of the principal criticisms of sphere sovereignty that he made in the class was just this distinction.

To try and make myself clearer, if I recall correctly, the 'spheres' were ethical, political, and economic (although I'm sure that their hypothetically could be more). Basically what the hierarchical and spherical system seems to suggest is that, except in areas of small overlap, what is done in relation to the sphere of ethics is not related to politics, and so on.

That is something that I think a Yoderian/Hauerwasian/MacIntyrian etc would reject. What I am unsure of (and why I am posting) is how all of that relates to Kuyper. I'm not very familiar with him, even though most of the higher ups at my college are pretty Reformed. I've never taken the time to really read any of the Dutch Reformed stuff, perhaps because I was too convinced by my ethics class and began down the Yoder/Hauerwas/MacIntyre route not too long ago (and, over Christmas, will begin down the Barth road so to speak, as I finally bought The Epistle to the Romans).

This is kind of a lengthy post just to point out that about 'sphere sovereignty', but this is incredibly interesting to me. We never connected Sphere Sovereignty with Kuyper or anyone else specifically, although we talked about it in the context of philosophical shifts post-Reformation, so I suppose you can put 2 and 2 together. I did not know that Kuyper was where this terminology started.

I've always (for some reason) loosely associated it with a utilitarian mindset, but that's another thing entirely.

Bob said...

Thom (or another Yoder fan),

Please help me understand what Yoder means by being involved in "politics" (busines,art, etc.). It seems that what Yoder gives with one hand he takes with the other. In other words to the degree that Yoder allows a shared meaning in the word "politic" - to that degree he is engaging "dialogue" with "the powers".


Anonymous said...


A good number of my colleagues work within the Kuyperian and neo-Calvinist tradition (Dooyeweerd), including my colleague in political science. None of them would accept that S. A. apartheid is an authentic outworking of that tradition. They might indeed, as Jesse suggests, point to the experiment in principled pluralism in the Netherlands when Kuyper was Prime Minister. At the same time, my colleagues do not hanker after a new Christendom, but rather encourage social and political activism in a whole variety of "spheres" of Canadian life, including health care, social welfare, the rights of First Nations peoples, plural options in education, protection of farmlands from urban sprawl, environmental responsibility in the mega-oil project known as the Alberta Tar Sands, etc. In all of this, they are intent on bringing a CRITICAL CHRISTIAN witness to bear on the policies and practices at work in the various spheres of life.

To be sure, I do not share many aspects of their political theories, and often debate them in lively conversations in the hallways and offices of our institution, but there is no doubt in my mind that they are as far from accepting the social, economic and political status quo (coercive capitalist 'democracy') as I am, and in many respects their Christian political witness has borne much good fruit.

Anonymous said...

Just a further comment re: Nate's post, and the concept of the "rules" operative in the various spheres. You are right, Nate, to point out that the spheres display a particular sphere-specific structure of sorts, rooted in the goodness of their creatureliness. However, my colleagues would not suggest that the good structure can simply be read off of any existing sphere in its current form and operation, since these have all been affected profoundly by the fall. So they would not propose just accepting the "rules" at work in a given sphere as if they were God-given, and then simply and uncritically working within that sphere by those rules. Rather, the knowledge of the God-given structure of a particular sphere is a labour of Christian discernment in the light of scripture, and, for my colleagues at least, is accompanied by a high degree of historical consciousness: those original structures are always already concretely imbedded in and distorted by any actual principles, practices and forms of life within the spheres in any given time. Over all spheres Jesus Christ reigns as Lord, and the kingdom of God stands as the critical criterion of their judgment and renewal.

In other words, I think Yoder gets it wrong in the quote you cited. If I'm not mistaken, he gives a more complex understanding of the Reformed tradition in Politics of Jesus, in which he proposes to substitute "principalities and powers" for the spheres. Yoder was often in dialogue with Richard Mouw, one of those Kuyperians who read Yoder carefully and tried to take serious account of Yoder's critique in a small volume (the name of which now escapes me) written in response to Politics of Jesus.

Ben Myers said...

Thanks, Doug: I agree with you completely. I've also got some very good Kuyperian friends who certainly don't interpret the "spheres" as merely "playing by the state's rules". (Including Bob, who comments above: a Kuyperian in whom there is no guile!)

So there's definitely more than one kind of Kuyper-reception — but I don't think this eliminates the fact that apartheid was also partly legitimated by an interpretation and reception of Kuyper's theology, or that the "spheres" doctrine and the Lutheran "orders of creation" can both end up undermining the necessary subversiveness of Christian ethics.

But of course you're right: there are plenty of examples of people who've pushed the "spheres" doctrine (or the Lutheran "orders") in a much better direction.

Anonymous said...

let me suggest attending to k. tanner's politics of god, where she illustrates about 14 different ways that reformed doctrines of predestination can influence social practice. there is no one size fits all kuyper implications.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is thank God that Yoderian political theology has never been used to invoke political apathy in middle class white seminary students.

In all seriousness, one of my biggest theological struggles lately has been articulated by Halden elsewhere, that being the question of whether Christianity is a civilizational project or not. I do wonder if Yoder got Kuyper right here.

As I read Kuyper a couple of years ago many of my baptistic leanings were challenged with the idea that one can act within the sphere of politics in a non-religious right manner and still honor Christ. My assumption was that the religious right had the monopoly and did a bad job, so the whole concept deserved to be thrown out.

Anyhow, Kuyper challenged that notion. Of course Yoder makes an equally good case, if not better, that the Christian witness exists regardless of the state, to the state, but not in or from the state. But just because he makes a really good case for his political theology, he still might have misread Kuyper.

But I might have misread them both.

Anonymous said...

One of the vigorous debates among post-Yoderian Mennonites concerns the legitimacy of participating in (or at least supporting) the "security" work of government. Those more affirmative of such work come out at a place that would seem to be not that far from Doug's neo-Calvinists, seeing the kingdom of God as the criterion, but recognizing different shades of what the kingdom demands in different contexts (including the possible use of coercive force).

The opposite extreme, in order to protect Mennonite pacifism, accepts a kind of two-kingdom understanding that continues to see the state (at least in its "sword-function") as "outside the perfection of Christ" and hence off-limits for followers of Christ (and it is not really our job to tell those who do operate in this arena what to do).

A few of us, inspired by Yoder (though admittedly pushing things further than he did) would accept the idea that Christ is Lord over all and understand this as a call to seek to imagine (and embody as we can) how his message of self-sacrificial love might apply to all human endeavors.

Unknown said...


Thanks for your helpful remarks, and especially your anecdotal insights. Your complexifying and nuancing what it means to operate according to the "rules" of the state is needed and well-taken. It may yet be the case that Yoder read the the Dutch Reformed tradition too much through the lens of Niebuhr's "distributive" trinitarian ethics. Still, there seems to be two questions that Yoder would want to put to adherents of "sphere sovereignty." (1.) The first would be the question of the independence or autonomy -- Selbständigkeit -- of the various realms of the state, the family, the economy, the church, etc. There is what Dooyeward calls an "intra-modal logical sense" in which each sphere is transcendentally related to the divine sovereignty via a "nuclear meaning-kernel" that renders its spherical independence. This renders sovereignty itself an abstractly transcendental and renders the coherence of the spheres supratemporal. Yoder could never accept this. This is what I take him to mean when he speaks of each sphere as "a rational, non-ideological instrument" -- though in the passage I am quoting he is referring to the Lutheran idea of the two kingdoms, and the two position -- Lutheran and Reformed -- should not be so easily conflated. (2.) It still remains the case that these spheres funciton according to logic of given "orders of creation." The family, the state, the economy, etc. do have their own "rules," and you are right that these are the "rules" according to which Christians are to operate requires discerning the ordained "rules" by God, not mere acquiescence to the imposed and presumed "rules" under the condition of fallenness. But it is this pre-lapsarian givenness of the family, the state, etc. that Yoder would challenge. I think he would much rather affirm these (where he does) as, with Bonhoeffer in Creation and Fall "orders of preservation."

That is how I understand things. If I am right, and if adherents of sphere sovereignty still maintain (as I have witnessed that they indeed do) the subverience of such spheres to the Lordship of Christ and the reality of the Kingdom, then maybe the question that is really at issue is not the status of the "spheres" and their respective "rules," so much as just what we mean we speak of the "lordship of Christ" and the "Kingdom of God."

That's long enough for now. Bob's question needs to be answered; I'll try to address that later, or better, leave it to Thom or another in the meantime, they will.

Anonymous said...

I am not a theologian but I was marred to a woman who had a Masters of Philosophy from Toronto’s Institute for Christian studies for 13 years and took quite a few classes there over the years. Kuyper and Herman Dooyeweerd where the touch stones for most of the thinking there and your right about the centrality of that Kuyper quote but as it worked it’s self out in actual policy the end results was almost indistinguishable from the political thinking of Men like N.T.Wright who feel that it is the responsibility for christens to build the kingdom of God here and now. I am not sure that we can lay apartheid at Kuyper feet it seems to owe more to 18th century Calvinism that also shaped the Presbyterianism of the American south. I don’t feel qualified to defend a tradition I to have reservations about but I am not prepared to dismiss such a rich body of very sophisticated Christian thinking so easily. I would suggest contacting one of the ICS faculties and soliciting a guest post. The dialogue might be worthwhile.

God bless

Steve in Toronto

Anonymous said...

"There is what Dooyeward calls an "intra-modal logical sense" in which each sphere is transcendentally related to the divine sovereignty via a "nuclear meaning-kernel" that renders its spherical independence."

This sentence makes no sense to me ... and it isn't because I don't understand what Dooyeweerd means by those terms. Why do I get the feeling that when you wrote this sentence, you googled "sphere sovereignty," clicked on one of the first couple links and then copied some jargon without really trying to understand Dooyeweerd's stance on sphere sovereignty?

The idea that "spheres" (or "modalities" as Dooyeweerd calls them) are "independent" or "autonomous" is totally foreign to Dooyeweerd's thought. Dooyeweerd does say the modalities are "irreducible" to each other but nowhere does he suggest they are independent or autonomous. This is pretty basic to Dooyeweerd's thought and the fact that you see this as a "question" for Dooyeweerd (or Kuyperians in general) suggests you don't know enough about their thought to be critiquing them yet. There are legitimate critiques of Kuyperian thought, but this is not one of them.

I appreciate that you recognize the difference between Kuyperian thought and two-kingdoms thought. Conflating the two would indeed be wrong.

Unknown said...


I suppose you are right, so far as it goes, if by "independence" or "autonomy" one means the "part-whole" relation of things that Dooyeweerd clearly rejects in Roots of Western Culture. Perhaps in that case my use of "independence" was a bad translation of Selbständigkeit. But Dooyeweerd rejects this "part-whole" relation precisely in order to affirm that each modality is an integral sphere unto itself. And this is what renders the spheres coincident in their supratemporality. Though we can argue with the terminology, I don't see how it is wrong to understand the irreducibility of the spheres here as bound up with this Selbständigkeit. It might be a contested reading of Dooyeweerd, but it is not a reading uninformed by what I understand of the tradition of Kuyper and, before him, Baader. Perhaps you could give me a little benefit of the doubt that I might actually read something I'd talk about. I see no purpose in doing otherwise.

But instead of simply saying I don't understand Dooyeweerd (I might not), could you please explain to me what Dooyeweerd does mean by the modal integrity of each sphere unto itself. That might be helpful.

Anonymous said...


You raise the kind of questions I have often raised with my neo-Calvinist colleagues. You are also right that my differences with them usually come down to the question of what we mean by the Lordship of Christ and the Kingdom of God. These are, for them, pretty much divorced from: 1)the concrete enactment and definition of human political lordship by the Son of God incarnate; 2) the shape of God's reign revealed in the cross and resurrection; and 3) the political witness of God's people as the cruciform body of Christ. Despite Bradm's criticism, there is no question that for the neo-Calvinists the question of political sovereignty is answered independently of the shape of the political sovereignty of Jesus Christ as witnessed in the Gospels. Indeed, they would regard it as a confusion of spheres to read the former in the light of the latter. Jesus Christ for them informs the "faith aspect", which is a kind of spiritual enlightenment in combination with the direct reading of scripture (i.e., unmediated by theology) that enables the Christian discernment of the other modal aspects in their truth, according to their own norms.

Anonymous said...

On another (though not unrelated) note. (Confession time) I am often over at (and their blog) see how "the other side" is thinking -- and in fact often appreciating what I read. But, am I alone in noticing that, since Obama's election, RJN is beginning to sound a lot like an Anabaptist/Hauerwasian?

Anonymous said...

Nate, I am unaware of where Dooyeweerd talks about "modal integrity." Which text of Dooyeweerd's did you get that term from?

The only place in Roots that I can recall him talking about "independence" with regards to sphere sovereignty is in his description of one wrong way to think about sphere sovereignty (under the heading "Society and Sphere Sovereignty"). But this is clearly not Dooyeweerd's view of sphere sovereignty, it's the one he's arguing against. He also distinguishes autonomous parts of the state from the whole but doesn't talk about the spheres themselves as autonomous.

Could you give me some specific examples from Dooyeweerd's texts that you think suggest that he sees "the irreducibility of the spheres here as bound up with this Selbständigkeit?"

Anonymous said...


"Jesus Christ for them informs the "faith aspect", which is a kind of spiritual enlightenment in combination with the direct reading of scripture (i.e., unmediated by theology) that enables the Christian discernment of the other modal aspects in their truth, according to their own norms"

I, of course, don't know your colleagues, but I've never seen a neo-calvinist interpret the "faith aspect" as meaning anything like what you describe here.

Anonymous said...

When did the Church become so entangled in studying the works of the reformers as second-hand commentary on Christ Himself? Doesn't the New Testament, first-hand commentary and actually inspired text, suffice as our guide for how to interact with society, politics, and one another?

We recently studied 1 Peter 2 about submission to authorities in our class and led into some interesting debate over the role of the Church in government. We see little-to-no indication that policial reform was an agenda of Christ nor His apostles. Yet in the U.S. today, political lobbying and movements occupy a significant amount of our church funds, charitable giving, etc. Why?

Unknown said...


I never meant to attribute the phrase "modal integrity" to Dooyeweerd as such. It just seems to me that Dooyeweerd's modalities seem to function according to the logic of integral spheres. I am thinking of volume three of his New Critique of Theoretical Thought, where he discusses the "individuality-structure" of the modal spheres, which affords a "relative independence" (I think he uses that phrase, if I recall) of the various micro-totalities which only sphere sovereignty can provide. I've only ever thought of this as akin to Groen's "sphere independence." Though I haven't read Groen, I've always understood this to be an accepted Dutch Reformed reading of the Kuyperian-Dooyeweerdian tradition (a la Spykman).

Unknown said...

I happen to be a Dutch man; I grew up in the Kuyperian reformed church in Holland (and left that long ago) but let me defend Kuyper here: In my country, Kuyper played an important role in creating a pluriformous society where non-reformed played an important role in political life. Yes, society was very stratified, but the political leaders of our pillarized society were very good at compromising and working harmoneously together.

So as a model, if applied to south africa, this should have led to a situation where white and black did indeed not mix much, but where there political leaders would be able to hammer out any compromise agreement envisionable.

The fact that some hardline white reformed claimed that they followed Kuypers idea of sovereignty in their own sphere by exclusing blacks from political life, is a lame implementation of the Dutch style of organizing our very divided society.

darren said...

"This non-ideological facticity presumes the fact-value dichotomy which he insists underlies and serves all forms of Constantinianism." Could you explain this some?

Nate asked, "could you please explain to me what Dooyeweerd does mean by the modal integrity of each sphere unto itself?" Though maybe Kuyper does not use "modal integrity" perhaps you could answer this question by articulating a reading of Dooyeweerd that is more in line with his thought than you believe Nate's to be? I'm very interested in the conversation because unlike you I have indeed met Calvinists who are very similar to those Doug describes; in fact, the majority of them. Though the more theologically-oriented among them would qualify sphere sovereignty in terms that you might agree with, most in my experience live in the spheres in remarkably unsubversive ways. And it isn't for want of anything worth subverting!

darren said...

whoops, that second sentence to Brad should read "Though maybe Dooyeweerd..." (not Kuyper).

Anonymous said...

I would agree with your assessment of Calvinists (although, I think it applies to most Christians I've met, not just Calvinists). And I would blame the unsubversiveness of most Christians on many things, but Kuyper and Dooyeweerd would be very far down on the list (because, in my experience, very few Christians (even those raised in Dutch Reformed traditions) have even heard of Dooyeweerd or Kuyper.

So I don't contest your experience with Calvinists. The only thing I've contested in these comments is nate's understanding of Dooyeweerd. I will try to answer your first question when I have more time.

scott said...

I'm coming late to this conversation, but can't resist. These are the exact conceptual problems I've run up against in my research, which is (broadly speaking) on Barth and Yoder on the powers.

My sentiments - which I take to be a Yoderian position- are between (or a combination of) what Doug and Nate have been expressing. I try to account for all this by suggesting that we take seriously Yoder's insightful suggestion that the powers are 'structures' of creaturely existence. This language picks up (a la Berkhof - Dutch Reformed, right?!) in a decisively Christological mode the claim that the powers are both 'created' and 'fallen' - i.e., they are indeed the patterns, norms, etc., by which God 'structures' creaturely life, yet both Christ's primacy over these 'structures' and their complicity in the fallen order precludes any view that they are somehow 'imparted' to creaturely reality, so that their ordering function (which they continue to fulfill) could be in any way 'positive' apart from the work of Jesus Christ, the 'head' of God's creation, the 'head' of all creation (Col.1).

Berkhof himself was happy to say, with a few Christological qualifiers, that the powers-as-structures 'corresponds approximately to what theologians would call "the Orders"', and Yoder himself, in a few moments with his guard down, makes comments along these lines. One key implication, which seems relevant here, is that in this way of perceiving things, there is a tip of the hat, as it were, in the direction of something like 'orders of preservation' (Bonhoeffer) - some recognition that we must be able to talk about specifiable means, in creaturely history, by which God, in God's providential grace, continues to structure and sustain humanity in its embodied fullness - yet because it is God's work in Christ that generates, sustains, and (finally) subverts these 'structures', their work and its value can never be conceived indepently of the Word God speaks concerning human being in Christ's history. All of that to say that, I agree with Nate and Doug, in that I think Yoder's 'exousiology' has resources for a doctrine of creation, by which we can think better about the 'structures' God uses to sustain creaturely life - yet we must do so recognizing both their utter complicity in the rebelliousness of the creaturely order, and that any positive 'function' they continue to fulfill is, quite simply, a function of their role in the work of Christ, the one Word of God.

I have to say that, for my money, some of the most helpful (non-Yoderian or -Barthian) work to help me think through and clarify these issues, in relation to government and economics, is some recent stuff revising the Lutheran doctrine of the 'drei Stande', or 'three estates'. These are the politia, oikonomia, and ekklesia - and the brilliant thing is that in this scheme government, economy and church are conceived as three aspects or functions of the work of the Divine Word itself, and thus can never be uncritically identified with any actually existing institution. They are specifiable in distinct ways, as distinct 'patterns' of God's care for creation, yet never separable in reality. There is some of this going on in Bonhoeffer's notion of 'orders of preservation', and I think in Barth, but I've found some really helpful impetuses along these lines in the work of Prof. Hans Ulrich of Germany, and two of his students - some of Bernd Wannenwetsch's stuff, and my supervisor, Brian Brock.

I hope that all made some sense. I should probably stop before I give away all my thesis secrets.


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