Infant Baptism Will Save the World?
Stanley Hauerwas, A Better Hope, p43–“Gerald Schlabach sent me criticisms of my work that another Mennonite had posted on an e-mail forum. The critic argued that my work is far too Catholic and thus incompatible with an Anabaptist perspective: ‘Hauerwas has a Constantinian fear of Christian liberty. He wants the clergy to tell us the story and the church to have the sanctions to enforce it.’ In his response Schlabach agreed that this is an accurate (although insufficiently nuanced) summary of my views but defended the position nevertheless. ”
Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom , Peter Leithart, IVP, 2010
Leithart is a high church theonomist. He teaches at Doug Wilson’s little school in Idaho. Like others in the anti-federal “federal vision”, he teaches justification by works, with a particular emphasis on “sacrament”. His book is endorsed by Anglicans who teach justification by works: Stanley Hauerwas, John Milbank, and NT Wright.
Leithart believes that infant baptism will save the world. Constantly caricaturing one side against the other, he calls John Yoder an “anti-realist”, then puts the Niebuhrs on the other end, and then sits himself in the middle. “In the end it all comes down to infant baptism.” P341.
When we ask how Constantine and infant baptism will save the world, Leithart asks us to stop being so impatient. Baptism has happened, and it will change the world, because justification by works has worked and will work.
Make no mistake: Leithart is still a theonomist, and the ritualism of James Jordan has not changed his dogmatic agenda that “the Old Testament is normative for politics”. (p131). When somebody like James Carroll (Constantine’s Sword) complains about the anti-semitism of Augustine, Leithart is quick to defend the good old days of the middle ages. The Jews were merely not allowed to proselytize, and besides, he is pro-Jewish because he thinks the OT is normative for politics. And he’s against all kinds of sectarian proselytizing, except of course his own proselytizing for one universal church.
Leithart very much opposes the “John Locke” Protestantism in which separatists (isolationists) “hold opinions that divide them from the general public”. We are reminded that theonomy is not about a combination of church and state but about having one church (with bishops) which can stand up to the state. He quotes Rushdoony (p181) about Trinitarians resisting imperialism. If you won’t support killing heretics, then you are left with “invisible churches”.
Of course we could ask all kinds of questions here, like which kind of visibility? Which church? Which bishops? Whose ordination? But Leithart cautions us to be patient about all such details. All we need to know for now is that infants are being baptized in the name of Trinitarianism. It’s happening, no matter what kind of “nominalist” objections and theories are being suggested. And Leithart himself is still ordained by the PCA, and if the PCA were to become a sect and disqualify him, then he would simply move on to the one church which remains the one church.
If you won’t defend Augustine for killing Donatists who “re-baptise”, then you simply show that you are a baptist at heart. True Anglicans still know that it’s a sin not to have your infants baptized by the one church. We cannot say that Constantine had no mission, because his mission was the empire, and in order to become a citizen in that empire, you also needed to be baptized (and have your infants done, along with your wife and slaves) and if you object to that, you show yourself to be modernist plain and simple.
Indeed, argues Leithart, Constantine really subverted the empire (you see) because he used his great power in the empire to change the empire! How could he have ended the gladiatorial shows, if he had retreated from cultural engagement like the quietists and separatists? If you can vote, you must, and if you can kill for a more civilized culture, then the killing itself becomes civilization!
If Joseph and Daniel can dream for the emperors, doesn’t it stand to reason that you also must become emperor if you can kill enough people to do so? And shame on Constantine for refusing to wear the purple when he thought he was near death, as if being emperor and being Christian were in competition. There is a bad justification by works, like when you do stuff not commanded, or stop doing stuff not forbidden, like stop killing, but then there is a good justification by works, when you can baptize the nations in the name of the Trinity.
Leithart knows that anti-Constantinianism is a cover for liberalism, or even worse, for pacifism. And so he argues simply, for those of us who are too dumb to get it. Augustine was a Christian. Augustine was not a pacifist. Therefore Christians do not need to be pacifists. Christians need only to reject “their wars” (that of the Marxists or the Anabaptist sectarians). But when Constantine becomes a Christian, then his wars become Christian wars, and thus our wars.
Leithart explains to us that John Yoder was effected by his social location: writing in Europe against the state churches of Europe, Yoder could not see that this kind of sectarian nation-building is not the same thing as the medieval achievement of cultural unity. In other words, with Milbank and Hauerwas, Leithart is accusing the ecclesiology of Yoder of still being “modernist”. Even if we can’t be quite Roman Catholic yet, we must all agree now that justification by faith is mere Gnosticism and that justification is by obedience to God’s law, and for that we need both character and community.
And of course Constantine’s history Is somewhat messy (especially his family life) but the alternative is the impatience of perfectionism. Leithart appeals to all us who grew up in dispensationalism and now see ourselves as superior to all that. Surely, “church history is not an empty parenthesis.” (p325) We need to work with that which has come about with the passing of time, and if we resist the gradualism of the Magisterial Reformers, we will end up with no church at all, and no conservative culture!
In order to “de-sacrifice the empire” and thus eliminate the confusion of patriotism and religion, we need to do two things, according to Leithart. First, we need to sacrifice (kill) the enemies of Rome. Second, we need to move the patriotic rituals out of the realm of the empire and move them into the church (which will support the empire). And one great immediate effect of this is that blood sacrifice is ended in the Jewish temple in Ad 70. Sure, in theory, the blood in the temple never worked, certainly not after Christ died, but if you want to see the real coming of the Christ, see it there in the Roman invasion of Jerusalem in Ad 70. (No wonder the theonomists and the preterists like NT Wright’s “end of exile” theology so much!)
If you are patient enough, you can make a nation Christian in the same way that you make an infant a Christian. You baptize it. And the great commission is for you who baptize, which is to say, first you say to a nation that it is Christian, and then you can talk to it like you do to Christians. But if you do not agree that the Romanists and the Americans are all already Christians, already baptized, then what can you say to them about what they should do?
You may think that my sarcasm has simply got the best of me, and that there’s no way that Leithart can be saying any of the things I think he is saying. To that, I say: read him for yourself. If you don’t have time to read the other theonomists (Rushdoony, Doug Wilson, James Jordan, Greg Bahnsen, Andrew Sandlin) or the preterists ( American Vision, Gentry), begin with Leithart’s earlier book: Against Christianity.
I quote from Leithart’s page 333: “The Creator made man to participate in and prosecute His wars.” Of course he is not only describing what God has predestined; his concern is ethics. Mine two. No triangulation needed here. Either he is right or we pacifists are right. According to him, Adam’s problem was that he was a pacifist in regard to Satan. If Leithart is right, as we get to newer covenants (or, “newer administrations of the one covenant”, as the ideology likes to say it), then the newer the covenant, the more responsibility all of us have to kill for the sake of the covenant.
And thus Leithart contextualizes Jesus, so that His dying at the cross rather than killing, is particular, specific, and unique, and not an example for anybody. I remember the old days when theonomists mocked Ron Sider for his leading questions: is God a Marxist? Ron never said he was, but he kinda implied it. And so today, the theonomists ask the leading questions: is turning the other cheek a rebuke of self defense or the defense of others?
How could we possibly think that what Jesus said in the Sermon was for all Christians in all places and for all times? We know that church history is not an empty parenthesis, and we know that Augustine was a Christian, and thus we know that Augustine’s version of Just war (not like that of Bush and Rumsfield) was also the politics of Jesus.
It’s sad that IVP published the book. What’s next for IVP? Will one day they even publish a book defining Calvinism in way that you don’t have to believe the doctrines of “tulip” to be a Calvinist?