For those who find Eric Voegelin (or Caleb Stegall) as puzzling I do (not their fault they are just smarter than everyone else) there is hope!
I strongly recommend picking up a copy of Jeffery Herndon’s Eric Voegelin and the Problem of Christian Political Order published by University of Missouri Press. This is a great introduction to a brilliant scholar who makes Cornelius Van Til seem downright readable.
What struck me reading Herndon’s account of Voegelin is how tremendously relevant Voegelin’s thought really was for the DRC. This is why Caleb is such an important contributor around here. What makes Voegelin’s thought so interesting is how it cuts across the categories found here at the DRC. I cheer when I come to the first line in Herndon’s introduction, “Western Civilization owes its existence to Christianity.” Amen. This is the whole of my position on the Mediatorial Kingship of Christ.
But from there what? How does Christianity intermingle with the nations in this age? Voegelin’s nuanced thought will give plenty for which the Two Kingdom boys will cheer. What Voegelin gives with one hand he will surely take away. Don’t come to Voegelin looking for a slogans to defend your pet project. Ideologies fall before him.
What I find the most stimulating is how Voegelin’s concept of homonoia and how authentic Christianity relates to it. Aristotle tells us that political unity must be based on a deeper unity. There must be homonoia… a like mindness that binds a folk together. Let me quote from Herndon:
In one of the most moving and oft-quoted passages on The New Science of Politics, Voegelin makes the following observation, ‘Human society is not merely a fact, or an event, in the external world to be studied by an observer like a natural phenomenon. Although it has externality as one of its important components, it is as a whole little world, a cosmion, illuminated with meaning from within by the human beings who continuously create and bear it as the mode and condition of their self-realization’ (CW, 5:109)…. Voegelin is striking at the idea that political life has some meaning for human beings that is an essential part of their existence (Herndon, pg 19).
Voegelin’s cosmion is rooted in Aristotle’s homonoia. Herndon writes, “This concord is not merely an intellectual agreement among a few individuals within a given polity about what ought to be done, or who gets what, where, and when, but rather it consists of a shared understanding among the populace about what it means to be a human being and what the ends of the given society or community ought to be (Herndon, pg. 20).” Obviously this has deeply spiritual implications.
First, it makes clear why 1st Century Christianity was such a threat to Rome. Roman civilization stood upon a common “civic religion”, a like mindedness or homonoia. This deeper sense of self allowed Rome to transcend the mundane realities of earthly politics and to be a cosmion that reflected their deepest spiritual understanding of the order within the universe. At its 1st Century center stood the “divine” Emperor in whose name was found salvation. The incarnation of Christ left the mundane earthly realities but gutted Rome of her homonoia. The cosmion was broken. The Empire was divided into two kingdoms.
Second, as Paganism died Christianity became the natural choice upon which to build the homonia of the West. This is why Western civilization is a Christian civilization. The nations that grew up out of the rubble of the Roman Empire were cradle Christians who grew up under the discipline of the church. They found their unity of heart and mind in a shared belief in the God of the Bible.
This second point is important but raises difficult problems. Christianity, unlike the cult of the Emperor, makes for a dangerous civil religion. If the gospel is tamed, no problem. When it is vibrant it finds bowing before earthly kings difficult. This accounts for the tension through Western History between the Church and the State… and to a less extent between the City of God and the city of man.
The tensions are profound. The genius of the American founding is not that they solved this tension fully but that they gave us a workable model of institutional separation between Church and state that preserves the gospel while recognizing the great public debt the West owes to Jesus Christ as King of the Nations. The US Constitution did not perfectly solve the problem but it provided the most suitable compromise that has been known since the ascension of Christ.
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