Dr. Henry, Duality and Ethics


Mr. Zylstra does me the honor of a serious and lengthy appraisal of my book, and I appreciate the fact that he has much to commend. Four lectures, appropriately designated Aspects of Christian Social Ethics, must necessarily leave gaps in the defining of positions, although I am persuaded that a complete exposition, had I time and competence to prepare it, would settle all of Mr. Zylstra’s questions. I write as a theologian, not as a political scientist, and, unfortunately, do not have the full familiarity with recent works on social and political philosophy that Mr. Zylstra demands.

Nonetheless I do not think my approach really falls under the criticism of “duality” that Mr. Zylstra imputes to it. The reader will need to judge for himself whether, instead, I avoid risky monism. According to Mr. Zylstra, my “fundamental error” is that my exposition is based on the implications of God’s nature—rather than on “the Lord’s revelation in His Word and Creation” (as Mr. Zylstra thinks it should be). But surely I cannot allow this distinction—for I do not presume to derive God’s nature and attributes from any source than His self-revelation.

Nor do I deny, but rather insist, that the one Kingdom of God is all-embracing environment of human life. But if, from this, we are to infer (as Mr. Zylstra seems to imply) that no clear distinction can be preserved between the orders of creation and redemption, or between what God wills through civil government and what God wills through the state, I must demur.

I am not wholly sure how Mr. Zylstra assimilates and yet distinguishes justice and benevolence. I had hoped, before posting this comment, to converse with him during a hurried trip through Amsterdam, and thus to join the issue at the essential point, but the opportunity did not arise. The sharp distinction between “love” and “grace” on which Mr. Zylstra insists seems to me to lack biblical warrant.

I cannot escape the conviction that Mr. Zylstra and I have more in common than in dispute in our approach to social ethics. But a major difference doubtless is this—that I associate civil government with God’s order of preservation in a fallen society, rather than with the order of creation, and hence do not directly and swiftly link it to the Kingdom of God as does Mr. Zylstra. Put another way, I think that Revelation 13 must not be forgotten alongside Romans 13, and that there is much to say for the separation of church and state, but nothing to say for the separation of the state from God.

Sincerely and cordially, CARL F. H. HENRY

I am sincerely pleased by Dr. Henry’s reaction to my review of his recent book, Aspects of Christian Social Ethics. Exchange of opinion can only be beneficial, especially today, when evangelical Christianity is making initial efforts at recovering its influence in the social and political areas of life. Mutual discussion is imperative, for it is quite evident that there is no consensus among Christians about the fundamentals of Christian social and political policy. This confusion is present, e.g., in the many misunderstandings which the C.L.A.C. still meets in Christian circles. I look upon the present discussion as an effort to clarify some of the issues involved.

Dr. Henry correctly interpreted my critique of his views: I do indeed think that there is a distinct tendency toward a duality in his fundamental starting-point, a duality which endangers an integrally Christian transformation of social and political life. Here, however, I must remove a misunderstanding. 1 did not write that our view of “God’s nature and attributes” must be derived from any other source than “His self-revelation.” Instead, I suggested that a Christian social and political theory should be based—not on our understanding of the relations of “divine attributes” in the nature of God, but—on the Lord’s revelation of His Word and creation. For God, in His revelatory Word, does not merely tell us who God is. He also reveals what creation is, and His will for that creation, and who man is (cf. here again, H. E. Runner, “The Relation of the Bible to Learning,” in Christian Perspectives 1960, Hamilton, pp. 100–107).

My point is that, though Revelation is a unity, our knowledge of man in society and the state must specifically orient itself to the divine law-order for creation, as we in principle understand this order in Jesus Christ. Why this stress on the order of creation? Because in the unity and diversity of this order one can avoid the extremes that so often plague us in our thinking about man in society. These extremes may be individualism or collectivism, conservatism or progressivism. These views are extremist, since they stress one dimension of God’s order for reality at the expense of another.

Further, an insight into the order of creation can also present a clue to the problem which Dr. Henry deals with in bis book, and which he also mentions in his letter, namely, the relation between justice and morality (“benevolence”).

The Four Loves

Dr. Henry is not sure how I assimilate and yet distinguish justice and benevolence. He thinks that my “sharp distinction” between “love” and “grace” lacks biblical warrant.

Here we must first be aware of the manifold meaning which the word “love” has received in our language, creating ambiguities which constant1y plague much of Christian ethics. Love can refer to: (1) God’s love for this world and mankind (John 3:16); (2) man’s love for God (Matt. 22:37); (3) man’s love for his fellow-man (Matt. 22:39); and it can also refer to (4) human love in specific social relations, such as the love of the parents for the child, the love between com-patriots or the love between employer and employee.

It is clear that one should know which type of love is meant in any discussion concerning ethics. The first type of love (God’s love for all His creatures) assumes the form of grace in a sinful world, since man has forfeited his right to receive this love. The second and third types, which really form a unity, sum up man’s whole life, that is, man’s religion (not to be confused with “morality”): this is the love demanded in the one Great Commandment (Matt. 22:37 and 39). Why is it called the great commandment? Because it embraces in a centrally religious way all of man’s duties; the requirement to love-God-and-our-neighbor is the heart of the creation order. That is why Christ could say that on these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets. Man’s primary religious love to God and his neighbor embraces all of the secondary norms for human life on earth: the social, economic, political and moral norms. All of these norms are fulfilled in love (Rom. 13:8–10).

The fourth type of love, moral love (“benevolence” in Dr. Henry’s terms), is thus but an aspect of the central religious love, and in this way stands on a par with the norms of justice, beauty and economy, which are also dimensions of the created order. This implies that these secondary norms, for instance justice and benevolence, must not be reduced to each other: their respective importance in the order of creation is “equally ultimate,” to use one of Dr. Henry’s expressions. For this reason I fully agree with Dr. Henry that we must oppose the superficial tendencies often found today, which so emphasize “morality” and benevolence that justice is practically eliminated. Justice and morality govern distinct areas of human life: justice in the state; and morality in ethical relations, such as the family.

But, though justice and benevolence arc distinct, they are not separate. Benevolence presupposes justice, and justice must receive its depth-dimension—also in state life—from benevolence. For in that way the centrally religious norm of love is expressed (ever more fully as his· tory progresses in harmony with the order for history, that is, the creation order) in both justice and benevolence. A clear example of this can be found in the history of slavery. In every primitive society one finds slavery: in a sinful world one can even say that it is part of a primitive legal order, its order of justice. But as the order of creation is expressed more fully as human life develops to a higher stage of civilization, slavery is at odds with justice, since justice itself is deepened in a moral way, so that the individual is given a greater respect.

Dr. Henry asks somewhere in his book (p. 151): “Can it really be contended that Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed a wholly new concept of law and justice whose source and content come from the Gospel?” He seems to give a negative reply; I would say, Yes! For the Gospel again puts the whole creation order in proper perspective, by placing love-to-God-and-neighbor at its center. And by doing this, Christ also infuses into justice and the law of the state a wholly new perspective. Justice and the state (founded in creation) must become expressions of God’s one will for man: service in love. In that way, justice and the state are indeed taken up into the coming of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, in whom all things—the whole creation subject to its law, the creation order—hold together, so that in everything Christ might be pre-eminent. For in Christ God is reconciling all things to Himself, including the political and social order, making peace by the blood of His cross (Col. 1:17–20). The Kingdom of God is present in human life wherever we discover something of this peace and reconciliation.

Two Realms? No!

For this reason I reject the traditional theory of “two realms” which has confused us since the days of the Reformation and which is experiencing a dangerous revival in contemporary Protestant ethics. This theory posits the “realm of creation” and the “realm of redemption” with two distinct sets of norms for human behavior and thus also two separate areas of human conduct, one subject to the order of creation and the other to the order of redemption. The state then would belong to the former, the church to the latter. Dr. Henry maintains a similar view in his letter: be wants to distinguish “what God wills through church government and what God wills through the church” (here he writes “state,” but I think he means church).

To be sure, the norms for the institutional church differ from the norms for the state. In the church God requires faith; in the state He demands justice. But both faith and justice are norms of the one Kingdom of which Christ, as Redeemer, is Head. In my view it is therefore wrong to relate these different norms, as Dr. Henry does, to the orders of creation and redemption, so that he cannot link these as directly and swiftly to the Kingdom of God as I would do.

Here lies the weakness of the “two-realm” theory as Dr. Henry seems to defend it. For, on the one hand, this approach cannot fully understand the richness and depth of the creation order and, on the other hand, for this very reason, also cannot fully understand the radical meaning of redemption. For in redemption the creation is restored, redirected to its original purpose: Christ to fulfill the law, that is, the order of creation. That law is good, not by itself, separate from redemption, but viewed in the light of Calvary and the Resurrection. There are not two sets of norms or orders applicable to separate areas of human conduct. If so, how could Christ become preeminent in all things? How could the Kingdom of God then be the all-embracing environment of human life? How could Christ then be the Lord of lords, the King of kings?

Though the law impinges on all men, also outside of the Gospel, Christ has revealed what that law is all about, namely, love. For man’s awareness of love as the heart of law had been ruined by sin. Christ in principle conquered sin: It is finished! (John 19:30). The Gospel is the good news that man can again live in the depth and breadth of creation (This is my Father’s world!) subject to the will of God for His creation.

Law and Gospel, creation and redemption, must not therefore be put on a par, as if the one “balances” the other, as if there are two distinct sets of norms for mankind, as if there are two areas of human life, one where Christ reigns supreme, another where a generally accepted “creation order” rules. If that is our pattern, why still fight for a Christian political order, a Christian education, a Christian labor movement? Politics, education and labor are areas of human culture where man unfolds the original creation, but subject to the norms which the Redeemer has again revealed in His Word. As Dr. Henry himself writes in his book (p. 18): “The purpose of redemption, therefore, is to bind man’s will afresh to the purpose of the Creator and the Lord of life.”

The Negative State

Why is all of this important? 1n my view clarity on these fundamentals is necessary before the evangelical community can make a contribution to the social, economic and political life of our times. The “two realm” theory, which limits the range of Christ’s Lordship, is largely responsible for the ineffectiveness of Christianity outside of home and church. It explains why there is no clearly defined Christian view of society and the state in evangelical circles.

It also explains, indirectly, Dr. Henry’s view of the state. He associates civil government with God’s order of preservation in a fallen society. The state preserves, it does not transform. First, what does the state preserve? the order of the past? With all of its sin and injustice? After reading his book again I have the distinct feeling that the incipient adherence to the “two realm” theory has made it difficult for Dr. Henry to conquer the non-Scriptural view of the social order as we find it in the laissez-faire individualistic liberalism of the last century. This view is still often found in evangelical circles, as the Goldwater candidacy revealed. This view holds that justice is mainly a question of the maintenance of order in society, and that the state should not do much more than this. The state preserves this order, but it cannot transform. That means, in effect, that the state cannot alleviate the people’s socioeconomic wants, for that is a matter of benevolence to be exercised by individuals and voluntary agencies such as the church (cf. pp. 160, 169).

I cannot now enter a detailed discussion of the nature and task of the state. I would assert, however, that this negative state of liberalism and neo-liberalism, defended today by political conservatives and orthodox Protestants does not sufficiently do justice to the full implications of the demands of the Gospel for the political order. This weakness, in part, explains the failure of Christianity as a clear antidote against the philosophies of Marxism and socialism. We must be anti-Marxist, but not on the basis of a capitalist view of society.

In short, if we look upon the state as an instrument in the coming of the Kingdom, then we will reject this negative state. To be sure, the state can become the beast of Revelation 13; but the norm for the state is given in Romans 13: the state is God’s servant for our good. A constructive exploration and application of that principle, in my view, will reveal that the state does more than merely preserve the order in a given society. Whenever the state opposes injustice it transforms society. And we must recall that injustice is not limited to the legal fibres of society; it also exists in the socia-economic life of the people. And where it exists, the stale must step in.

The issue of the twentieth century is defined by Marxism, which is not answered by a negative view of the state founded on a supposedly Biblical order of preservation. For also in this realm the Christian religion must oppose Marxist revolution by Christian transformation: a process in which the state has its distinctive place. A contribution to that transformation must also be the central aim of the Christian Labor Movement.

Recently Mr. Bernard Zylstra, presently pursuing post-graduate studies in the Netherlands, reviewed the significant book of Dr. Carl Henry on Aspects of Christian Social Ethics. This review elicited a response from the author, here presented, in which significant questions were raised. To these Mr. Zylstra now replies. We trust that our readers will benefit greatly from this brotherly exchange of ideas on the Christian understanding of love and justice.