Dismissing Jesus: A Critical Assessment, Pt. 4—The Way of Renunciation

Print In chapter three, “The Way of Renunciation,” Jones introduces us to the heart of the opposition he aims to unpack in Dismissing Jesus: God vs. Mammon.  “Renunciation” here is about renouncing the “whole social system” that is Mammon: “the spirit of unsacrificial wealth, self-interest, and greed, a longing for greatness and prestige, a grasping for power, the power of domination and violence” (36). 

Renunciation is a complete act of repentance, a turning away from the ways of the flesh and the world and a turning toward the way of the cross.  In many ways, then, this chapter offers something of a meta-statement of many of the chapters that follow.  It remains fairly general, but, as far as it goes, is mostly quite helpful.  Readers may particularly profit from Jones’s extended exposition of the meaning of the three temptations of Christ,  in which he shows how Christ’s rejection of Satan’s three temptations encapsulates his rejection of all that the world holds dear: material possessions, public spectacle and prestige, and power.

Jones clearly thinks that he shines new light on these vices of greed and pride by treating all their manifestations as part of a larger overarching whole, which he names Mammon. But I’m not so sure that this new nomenclature really helps us, on the whole.  To be sure, it sheds light on how many vices that we often imagine to be separate are in fact deeply interconnected, and grow out of one another.  On the other hand, it substitutes vagueness for precision.  Moral theology has made a considerable investment over the millennia in classifying vices, and by collapsing them all into one indiscriminate heap, I worry, Jones makes it more difficult to offer concrete diagnoses of particularly evils or concrete prescriptions for resisting them.  Of course, as I have said, later chapters fill in some of the details of the big picture given here, so this worry may be exaggerated.  Still, I think it’s important to resist, at the level of terminology, a flattening out of the moral life that causes us to forget the radical pluriformity of the sins and
temptations we face.

Perhaps the reason I cannot wholly put aside this worry is because Jones’s use of the concept of Mammon prompts another, more significant worry.  Here’s why it seems to me important to hold onto the pluriformity of evil: although the Good is prior to, and constitutive of, all particular goods, the same cannot be said of evil.  That would be Manichaeanism.  What do I mean?  Well, there is one supreme and eternal Good, which is God, and it is in him that all virtues and all creaturely beings find their concrete goodness.  But this is not so of evil.  The particular vices exist only as corruptions of particular virtues; they do not have their own being.  If they did, then they too would have to find their root in a single source, a supreme and eternal Evil—in other words, an equal and opposite principle to God himself.  This is Manichaeanism.  Far from being just another abstruse “ism,” a heresy that we have to oppose at some theoretical level, but hardly seems of practical consequence, Manichaeanism is very bad news.  It means that much of the created order, whether the physical order or the human social order, is not simply off-course and in need of correction and redemption; rather, it is fundamentally, irretrievably corrupt.  It cannot be redeemed, only avoided.  We are doomed to an eternal cosmic struggle against this inexpungible evil.  Of course, a Christianized Manichaeanism may insist that in the end, Christ somehow triumphs over Mammon, but his victory involves not redemption, but destruction of the parts of the world tainted by Mammon.


“Now, now, Brad,” you will say, “that’s all very interesting, but let’s not get carried away.  What, really, does this have to do with Jones’s book?”  Well, I would suggest that it is not for nothing that Scripture rarely attempts to personify evil under a unitary appellation; nor is it for nothing that, when it does do so, it uses a curious variety of names.  Satan, Lucifer, Mammon, Belial, Beelzebub, Devil, Dragon, Apollyon—we could go on at some length, in fact.  This variety of names helps us to remember that there is no anti-God, that evil is not one great single power, but is much more mundane than that.  When Jones seeks to, on the basis of a single saying of Jesus, unify all of these under the single name of Mammon, he risks doing rather more than he intends.  We should not be surprised to find that overtones of Manichaeanism start popping out all over the place.  “Jesus didn’t deny that money was a god.  That god even had a name—Mammon.  Jesus affirmed Mammon as the sole, serious competitor to the Trinity.”  “Jesus understood the antithesis or contrast between God’s way and Mammon’s way as the most fundamental distinction in all of life and history.” “For Jesus, Mammon wasn’t one idol among many equals.  Jesus never spoke of any other god in the way he spoke of Mammon.  He singled it out as the direct competitor to God” (32).  The rest of the chapter (and indeed, much of the book) is framed in terms of this absolutely fundamental dichotomy, a dichotomy that seems to concede more to Mammon than Scripture ever does to Satan.

Perhaps this is all just a strong metaphor, but without practical consequences.  I thought so at first, but the more I looked, the more I realized how this move does start to yield the tell-tale practical symptoms of Manichaeanism.  It means that Jones accepts at face value Mammon-Satan’s claim to the dominion of the world:

Satan owned them all [all the kingdoms throughout history]—“All this authority I will give You, and their
glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish” (Luke 4:6).  In a very important sense, they are all Tyre, all Satanic.  All Satanic?  We instinctively resist such a conclusion, especially those of us who identify with some of these nations.  Certainly our nation has to be benevolent and well-meaning at heart.  Some of these kingdoms even seemed to grow out of Christian roots.  Christ wouldn’t
call all nations or empires Satanic, would he?  Surely, “Christian nations do plenty of good.” (40-41)

But crucially, Christ does not call these nations and empires Satanic; he never grants Satan’s claim.
To be sure, nations and empires can become Satanic, as we see in Rev. 13, which Jones of course quotes.  But to grant them Satanic as such is to cede too much of the created order—human social order itself—over to the evil one.  True, the Apostle John says (though Jones never quotes this passage), “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), but the Book of Job reminds us that Satan is on a leash.  Inasmuch as the hearts of men have turned toward evil, Satan reigns there, but inasmuch as creation remains fundamentally good, Satan can never claim full control over any part of the world.  If this is true before the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, how much more is it true now afterward, when “he has led captivity captive,” when “he reigns until God has put everything under his feet”!

Jones’s argument here, I would suggest, could have benefited considerably by taking on board the rich exegesis and biblical theology of the first three chapters of Leithart’s recent Between Babel and Beast.  Here he argues that while some governments and empires do become beasts, wholly given over to the purposes of Satan and hostile to the rule of God, others are mere Babels, banally corrupt and arrogant in their quest for order, but still useful for human society, and some are even redeemed to the point of becoming cherubic guardians that protect and advance God’s kingdom.

Jones, however, lacking such nuance, appears to consider all the kingdoms of this world to be intrinsically bestial, all political rule to be a manifestation of Mammon, and hence denies that Jesus ever redeems them for his own possession.  He faces the flat contradiction of Rev. 11:15, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” but he responds,

we don’t see Jesus or the saints redeeming and reforming the Satanic beast.  Jesus didn’t baptize the kingdoms of the world and hold them close to his heart.  No, he destroys the beast and everyone connected with it. That’s what Jesus did with Satan’s former property. . . . Christ’s kingdom destroyed and replaced Satan’s kingdom’s.  It’s a completely different way of rule (41-42).

Logically, this move would seem to lead Jones toward both anarchism—the rejection of all forms of political rule—and sectarianism—a mindset in which the faithful simply withdraw from engagement with the doomed world and leave it to its fate.  The first implication Jones openly embraces (see especially ch. 6); the second he would deny, I think, but it seems hard not to see it in the language he frequently employs (esp. at points in chs. 6 and 8, which we will come to later).  We can see some of both in the paragraphs that follow the above quote:

The reason that Jesus destroyed Satanic kingdoms is that the kingdoms of this world run according to an entirely alternative way of life . . . God is love, after all, but nations and empires don’t even attempt to do that.  States slice and bomb.  They are institutions that by their nature focus on external obedience and order. They cannot look on the heart.  They do not attempt to live by love, especially not love of enemies that was so central to Jesus’s life.  States excel at breaking things and people, pushing them into outward order, forcing surface conformity.  The goal of Jesus and the whole New Testament aims another direction entirely.  He aims for an obedience of the heart, a faith of internal virtues grounded in love.  The kingdoms of this world have always been horrible at that.  It’s against their neighbor.

Jesus wanted something completely different from the violence and domination of past, present, and future kingdoms, nations, and empires.  He wanted a radical alternative, a new sort of kingdom, and so his way of life, his empire—the church—would struggle against the kingdoms of this world forever. (42)

(This sort of language crops up at a number of other points in the book.  See for instance pp. 240-41, where he says that Christians shouldn’t get involved in politics: “Why help Mammon build its kingdom or try to redeem Mammon?  Church and state solve problems differently.  The state has no promise of the Spirit and the depths of the human heart.  The state can only look on the surface, and that’s not God’s way.  The state can only deal with externals, and that will always be halfway and ineffective.  The state excels at coercion and violence, even when implied, and that’s not Christ’s way.  Christ’s kingdom works in the realm of interior virtues and love.”)

Here, Jones takes something that is obviously true—that states cannot see the heart, and must rule at the level of outward order—and draws a non sequitur conclusion from it: that they are therefore fundamentally at odds with Christ’s kingdom of inwardness.  The Reformers drew the opposite, and it would seem far more logical conclusion.  Precisely because Christ’s kingdom operates at the level of inner virtue, and earthly kingdoms at the level of outward virtue, they are not competing for space on the same playing field, but operating on different levels.   Of course, the Reformers did not draw from this the corollary that some have imagined—that therefore the two have nothing to do with each other, each doing their own thing in their own way without relevance for the other.  Rather, they drew on the long Christian tradition of ethical and political thought that argued for some connection between outward and inward virtue, and therefore contended that states could, in their own limited, provisional, and imperfect way, assist the inward heartwork of Christ’s kingdom by providing a framework of external virtue.  Jones, however, for whatever reason sees an absolute, intrinsic contrast and rivalry between the external and the internal:

Mammon loves an external show of prestige and credibility.  It loves bureaucratic credentials and the glitz of greatness.  It loves the seriousness of marble columns and shiny war medals.  None of that requires an inner life or deep habits of goodness and empathy.  It’s all surfaces and lies, whited sepulchers with dead men’s bones. (39)

Now, none of this is to deny that Jones’s descriptions of states, and of the world and its social structures and economic systems, is largely accurate: “the spirit of unsacrificial wealth, self-interest and greed, a longing for greatness and prestige, a grasping for power, the power of domination and violence” (36).  Don’t get me wrong.  The critique in this chapter is a valuable one.  But Christian ethics has a very strong interest in insisting that all of this is a perversion; it is not the way things have to be.  The institutions and practices of human social life are fallen, twisted, and corrupt, but our response is to identify their vices and redeem and repair them; not discard the world and everything in it to create a new alternative from scratch.  As Jones’s description of Mammon in this chapter remains largely at the level of generalities, so does this critique.  But I have taken some time to develop it because it will inform our response to some of Jones’s later, more specific claims about what Christians must renounce and what their alternative must be.

Now, I am pretty sure that Jones does not, in fact, think that business acumen, trade, sales, and all the rest are intrinsically evil; rather, I expect that his point is to very forcefully drive home the warning that they are particularly (perhaps uniquely) vulnerable to fall into evil.  But if that is the case, then what readers of this book urgently need to hear, and what I know many sympathetic readers are eager to hear, is guidance on how to successfully navigate this ethical minefield.  The vast majority of readers will be involved in vocations that require them to do some kind of buying and selling, to exercise some kind of business acumen, and they want to know how they can do this in allegiance to God, rather than Mammon.  Where are the pitfalls?  Where are the sins?  What practices must they avoid, and what attitudes must they cultivate?  Of course, Jones cannot say everything in this book, and these questions will take a long time to answer properly.  But I wish he had made more effort to at least point us in the right direction, rather than leaving some readers with the impression that the only godly thing to do is to abandon business altogether.  And of course, it is at points like this that my complaint about the lack of history in this book comes into sharp relief.  For there are few questions to which the Christian tradition of moral theology has dedicated such careful attention as it has to these questions about money.  From Basil to Augustine to Aquinas to Calvin to Wesley, we find warnings about the love of money, warnings about the vices that arise within the domain of commerce.  But we also find careful, thoughtful, nuanced discussion of how a Christian should live and work amidst this sea of temptations.  It is such guidance for which readers of this book are earnestly crying out.

(See also Pt. 1, “Introduction,” Pt. 2, “Overview of the Way of the Cross,” Pt. 3, “The Way of Weakness,” Pt. 5, “Faith Working by Love,” Pt. 6, “The Way of Sharing,” and Pt. 7 “The Way of Enemy Love.”)


8 thoughts on “Dismissing Jesus: A Critical Assessment, Pt. 4—The Way of Renunciation

  1. Brad Littlejohn

    Jones’s response from FB:Thanks Brad for part four of your review of Dismissing Jesus. Brief thoughts:

    (1) Brad worries about a lurking Manicheanism where parts of creation are intrinsically bestial, but I agree with him that “Satan can never claim full control over any part of the world.”

    (2) Brad sees the Mammon distinction leading to an “intrinsic contrast and rivalry between the external and the internal.” Rather than the language of internal-external, I think Christians need to develop a politics out of Paul’s contrast between law and Spirit – “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). Similarly, imagine a politics based on Paul’s “For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law” (Gal. 3:21). I discuss this later in Dismissing, but I also hope to devote a future book to it as well.

    (3) Brad continues to complain that this book doesn’t do things it didn’t aim to do, but that’s part of the reason for its recommended reading list. My aim wasn’t practical specifics of business practice and home finance, in part, because others are filling that gap nicely. On the practicalities of money and business, consider these: Free: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most by Mark Scandrette; “God’s Economy: Redefining the Health and Wealth Gospel* by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove; * Economy of Love: Creating a Community of Enough* by Shane Claiborne, et al; Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks by August Turak; Economy of Desire by Daniel M. Bell Jr, and more.


    • Brad Littlejohn

      And my reply:*Thanks. Briefly:1) But you do grant that Satan has successfully claimed full control over all political institutions, no? Certainly the passages I quoted sound like this.2) Sure, but I think it’s pretty well-understood that Paul is not here referring to civil law, but to the Old Covenant law. Of course, it remains true that "righteousness" cannot come by civil law, but there’s nothing in Paul to suggest that this pits it against the kingdom of God in intrinsic rivalry.3) This is key. Your defense here seems to boil down to saying, "My only purpose in this book was to rock the boat by telling people that they aren’t disciples of Jesus but are instead enslaved to Mammon. I wasn’t intending to tell them how to go about being disciples of Jesus." And, if you may forgive me for being blunt, that seems just plain irresponsible. Remember, I’m not complaining that you don’t get down to specific injunctions, e.g., "Here’s why Jesus wants you not to get a 30-year mortgage"; I’m complaining that you don’t attempt to provide enough of a practical compass for Christians to even begin figuring out the specifics.

      I should also add that my complaint is that you lead Christians to believe that they should not expect to find any practical guidance in the pillars of the Christian ethical tradition, folks like Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther. Sure, we should read contemporary writers as well, but we will not be well-anchored unless we are willing to learn at the feet of the old masters as well.


  2. Matthew N. Petersen

    Is there a parallel between Jones’ analysis of the all pervasiveness of Mammon, and Augustine’s characterization of the all pervasiveness of the libido dominandi? That is, is there a parallel between his claim that all earthly cities are dominated by Mammon, and Augustine’s claim that the earthly city is dominated by the lust for domination?

    Along those lines, you say "But to grant them [earthly kingdoms] Satanic as such is to cede too much of the created order—human social order itself—over to the evil one." This quote seems to conflate fallen human social order, and human social order itself a little too closely. Though I think I agree that completely ceding fallen human social order to Satan is too much—Christ makes the passions useful, and makes likewise makes the social order useful—it does not seem Manichean. Fallen human social order—with the one possible exception of the Church, the only sort we have seen—is not creational, but fallen. As such, the question of to what degree the social organization, and political institutions are wicked is an open question. It is within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy to claim that the city is founded on a social murder (as Girard does, with parallels in Augustine), and that as such, our system of politics and our social systems are consequent to the fall, and intrinsically dependent on the libido dominandi, on destructive mimetic violence, and on Mammon (the last bit from Jones); and that the salvation of a people—human social order itself—has included fashioning a people centered not on these, (or called not to be centered on these) but instead centered on love of Christ, on anamnisic eating, and service to Christ, not Mammon. But that the new society is like the one I described is, as far as I can tell, the central thesis of his book.


  3. Matthew, I see what you mean, I think, that the church could be thought of as a possible exception to the rule of fallen human society, but that worries me because the option has already been extensively tried out and found very much wanting: namely, in Medieval papalism. Christians have already held, and for a very long time, that the church is able not only to model the societas perfecta to the civil world, but also to actually dictate terms to the civil world on the theory that only the custodians of "spiritual" things have True Insight into reality. But it seems evident enough that the church today is just as riddled with imperfection and actual sin as at any other time in history, so I don’t know how we could hold it up as an exception to the rule of fallen human society.

    Also, I’ve been wrestling for a few years now with the question inspired by Augustine in the City of God concerning the fratricidal founding of the City. In terms of an actual "city," that’s undeniable, but if Aristotle was right that the most foundational bond of human society is the man and the woman allying for the propagation of the race and for mutual subsistence, then in truth the first "city" was actually creational and not post-fall. I wonder how this might alter the evaluation of the degree of goodness of temporal political order.


    • Matthew N. Petersen


      I think our disagreement may be verbal–that is, I mostly agree with you, though I think we’re phrasing things differently, particularly in the second paragraph.

      Regarding your first paragraph:

      My claim isn’t that the Church (macrocosm) is an exception from the rest of human society, any more that the individual Christian (microcosm) is an exception to the rest of humanity. Rather, my point is that just as individual Christians are called to be an example of the new form of being human inaugurated in Christ, so too the Church is called to find her heart not in the old way of being a city, but in the new way. But (at least outside the Sacraments) both will fail.

      This is true of individuals, even though we often fail. We are called not to ‘tempt against Time’s scythe to make defense / by breed’n—thus brave him when he takes us hence, as Shakespeare would have us; rather, we are to try to survive time’s scythe by looking in faith to Christ for Resurrection. (Though again, we often fail.)

      Similarly, this is true of the True and Eternal City, the Church. Till Christ, cities established themselves by means of mimetic violence, founding the city, and gaining unity, by murder and human sacrifice. (This is in Girard.) But now we are called, though we often fail, to be a city that finds its coherence in anamnisic eating, a al de Lubac. Though again, we will often fail. Yes, imperfection. The perfection is in the call, not in our actions, which, like every individuals, are a combination of wickedness and virtue.

      This parallel perhaps goes even deeper. St. Paul says "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." The ontological reality "Ye be risen with Christ…ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God" is the ground of the exhortation.

      Similarly with the Church. By eating together, we are one Body, since we partake of that one Body–whether we act like it or not. By eating the Flesh, we have in fact found the heart of our city in Christ’s self-sacrifice, and Resurrection, rather than in mimetic sacrifice and scapegoating. We ought therefore live like it.

      What I am saying is perhaps like the visible/invisible Church distinction, but with Dr. Leithart’s rephrasing of "visible/invisible" as "historical/eschatological". In the Eschaton, the Church will be wholly united around the Wedding Banquet, and Her Husband. And looking back, we will see a City that survived precisely because her heart, anamnisic eating of Christ is not temporal, but Eternal, since the food is not temporal, but Eternal. And whatever she did that was not centered on Christ will have been burned away, having melted in the fervent heat. But from our current perspective, outside the Eucharist assembly, we see a mixture of good and evil–and even angels would not be able to sort the two out. (As the parable of the wheat and the tares shows.)

      The second paragraph, I think we are basically saying the same thing. The question isn’t whether man is naturally civic, but whether the current form of cities is natural. Again, I think we can take a cue from the individual, since the individual is a microcosm. It is natural for there to be individuals, but our current mode of living is not natural. Similarly with cities, the question isn’t whether man is naturally social–since after the Resurrection, the Church will be a society–but which parts of the current city are natural to cities, and which parts are unnatural, but only arise from our current circumstances. We can say, as I think I would, that the current cities (with the exception of the Church, which, whether or not we act like it, is founded by the self-sacrifice and Resurrection of Christ) are founded on a ritual murder. But that does not mean that society itself is evil.

      (And thus to my original point, which might not have been clear, Doug’s position isn’t Manichean, since it’s the current structure of a city that he thinks is intrinsically evil, not city per se.)

      Does that help at all, or am I not quite addressing your concerns?


      • Brad Littlejohn

        Good discussion, guys. Sorry to take awhile to weigh in. First, it’s key to note that I argued that Jones’s position tends toward Manichaeanism, has those sorts of overtones; as a result, it manifests some of the same symptoms as Manichaeanism. Obviously, it is not full-blown Manichaeanism, and the symptoms are not as severe. To say that the world is completely given over to evil because of the Fall is clearly less than full Manichaeanism, since the Manichees treated evil as co-eternal with God; however, it is difficult to sustain such a strong statement of the dominion of evil without a basically Manichaean metaphysic.

        I think the Augustinian answer to Manichaeanism is essential here, and so I don’t think Doug is just doing the Augustinian thing. For one, it’s crucial for Augustine that the problem is rooted inwardly, in human hearts, not outwardly in institutions. The libido dominandi is a distorted desire that is at the center of the life opposed to God; it is the lust for power, not earthly power as such. Now Jones sometimes says stuff like this, but he’s very equivocal, particularly in the passages where he talks about political authority. In the very last chapter of the book, he says, "We need to deal with the Mammon inside of each of our hearts to deal with the Mammon in society"—great! But why did that have to wait to the very last chapter? Maybe you could claim it’s just a difference in emphasis, but if so, it’s one that really shapes the way a lot of readers understand his arguments.

        Now of course, Augustine himself, anti-Manichaean though he was, roots political power in the Fall, rather than in Creation. This is an important dispute in Christian political thought, one in which I tend to be more on Aquinas’s side than Augustine’s. But note that Augustine never said that the exercise of political power was necessarily sinful—only that it was necessary on account of sin. Yes, he draws certain links between the City of Man—defined by the libido dominandi—and the earthly political city, inasmuch as the latter is usually corrupted by the former. But he does not simply equate the two, as if every exercise of earthly power is an expression of the libido dominandi. If there had been no sin, there would have been no magistrate, Augustine thought. But because sin lay in the heart, it was perfectly possible for a righteous man to make use of the power of the magistracy without thereby sinning. It is this that Jones denies, and this that sets him firmly outside the Augustinian tradition.

        So yes, I would agree with the things you say about the Church as that which is called to a more perfect way, a way based on self-sacrifice rather than scapegoating, but with two caveats: 1) you yourself acknowledge that this is a calling, not something we ever achieve this side of the eschaton. That being the case, you presumably do not consider the church, in her present historical form, viable as a full-fledged "alternative" to the city; the imperfect earthly rule still continues along side the proleptic heavenly rule. Right? Jones, however, talks as if the church is ready here and now to replace the earthly city; in this case, Tim’s points, which you acknowledge, about the inescapable sinfulness of the church make clear why this doesn’t work. 2) Inasmuch as imperfect earthly rule continues, part of our job, as those being schooled in a more perfect way, should be to make it less and less dependent on Girardian violence.


      • Matthew N. Petersen

        I don’t have time for a full response now, but a few thoughts for now:

        Quickly, regarding sinfulness: To paraphrase Charles Williams from a different context: As a Church, and as individuals in the Church, our business is not to be, but to know that we are centered on Christ. The exhortation to live like as if we are a new sort of community follows from the metaphysical claim that we are a new sort of community, formed as such in the Eucharist assembly.

        How do you define a city? I’m not sure what you have in mind by a city when you’re saying that the Church is not a viable alternative to the earthly city.

        The point where it seems not to be a viable alternative is two-fold:

        First, there are certain temporal goods that are necessary for life in this age. Though these finite goods are related to the Eternal Goods, the end of the Church is the Eternal Good, not the finite good. Rather, the end of the earthly city is the finite goods. So the Church is not viable, at least in this age, without the earthly city.

        Second, and related, is the question of Church government. Though ultimately, Christ, our King and our God, is very definitely a viable alternative to Obama or Elizabeth, if we say that Church government is a viable alternative to earthly government, we very quickly start sounding like we’re saying the Bishops and priests and popes, etc. are a viable alternative to dukes and earls and kings. But the problem is that bishops are given temporal authority over Church, but their job is to direct her toward her end, and to represent Christ in the Church. And since the ends are different, the episcopacy cannot be an alternative to the civic government. (Also, the ordained priesthood is destined to perish with use.)

        So on both these points, although the Church is a different city, a superior city, etc. it isn’t strictly an alternative city, at least not in the sense that we could simply do away with earthly social organizations.


      • Brad Littlejohn

        Thanks, Matt. I like your point from Charles Williams. But what this means is that, to the extent we are speaking of the external reality of the church as a social body, we are speaking primarily prescriptively, rather than descriptively. And this means we have to be very modest about claims regarding the church as "an alternative city/community/social space" (I’ve made this same point against Cavanaugh’s Migrations of the Holy, in a review that will go up on Reformation21 shortly).

        Regarding the problems with speaking of the church as an alternative city—yes, you have more or less captured what I was trying to get at.


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