McAtee Disagrees and Agrees with C. J. Engel on the Problem with Theonomist Social Theory

“Stephen Wolfe’s disagreement with James White and Wilson (and Joe Boot too) reflects precisely what I’ve been talking about for years: the inability of modern political theologies to properly understand the function of the Political within the paradigm of civil society.

People thought it odd that I would draw parallels between theonomic thinking and liberalism; but I have always emphasized that both of these models adopt the modern view that society springs forth out of the heart of man: the soul must be converted and the integrity of the political order at large is downstream from the conversion of souls. Liberalism of course is a secularized version of such things but the fact remains that for them, politics reflects culture.

This neglects the role of hegemony in society and the fact that society always reflects the vision and ethos of its elites. This is especially true and unavoidable in the post-Managerial revolution where culture is a product of political calculus and flows out from the plans of social engineers. The fact of the matter is that the Political serves the role within civil society of “Society making.” It mediates and facilitates the soul of the people, the ethos that will be adopted by that people; a nation reflects its rulers.

Read: the magisterial reformers (Turretin, Hooker, Vermigli, etc), Paul Gottfried, de Jouvenal, Carl Schmitt, James Burnham, the Paleoconservatives, and even people like Edmund Burke, the counter-revolutionaries, and the Federalists. They understand Power and it’s function to craft the souls of men and societies far better than most moderns.”

C. Jay Engel
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1.) First, I think it profitable to emphasize the proper definition of culture here since Engel posits that theonomists and liberals posit that politics reflects culture. If we understand that culture is the outward manifestation of a people’s inward beliefs or, more succinctly put, culture is theology externalized, then we have to understand that it is indeed the case that politics reflects culture.

2.) Now, we must note that while Engel may indeed be correct observing “the fact that society always reflects the vision and ethos of its elites.” However, it is simply the case that the vision and ethos of the elites is itself a result of their theology being externalized into the political order. So, the theonomist would argue that if one wants to see change in a given culture it is not so much mass conversions that are required but rather conversions of a people’s elites. This fits well with the accounts of early Christian mission efforts where we read that the early Christian missionaries would go to the King, Shaman, or tribal wise man knowing that if conversion could be made among these then the whole people would follow.

So, despite Engel’s denial “that society springs forth out of the heart of man:” it remains the case. The difference between myself and chaps like White, Wilson, and Boot is that I am insisting that it is not the heart of mass man out of which society springs, but rather society springs out of the heart of the ruling elites or even in some cases one ruling elite in the case of someone like King Alfred or Oliver Cromwell.

3.) So it remains true, despite Engel’s denial that “the integrity of the political order at large is downstream from the conversion of souls.” Our difference is on whose soul’s conversion are necessary in order to have the integrity of political order. Engel rightly protests that the likes of Wilson, White, and Boot who think that there needs be mass conversions in order to effect this change. I enter the same protest but without denying that politics reflects culture — the culture of the elites and so society at the same time reflects the culture of its rulers.

4.) I quite agree with Engel that the “Political serves the role within civil society of ‘Society making.’” However, I insist that theology/religion serves the role within civil society of ‘Elite Making.’ This is a Theonomic observation and demonstrates that Theonomy remains the only model that can consistently provide relief.

5.) Having read many of Engel’s recommendation, I remain on solid ground.

Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

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