Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Enthusiasm in Both Kingdoms?

On Friday my wife and I went to the movie, The Last Exorcism. As the horror genre goes, I thought it was quite good, though I was a little disappointed by the ending which I considered to be somewhat over the top.

One interesting aspect of the film (and I'm not giving anything away, because this is revealed immediately) is the loss of faith by the main character, Rev. Cotton Marcus. The premise of the movie is that this southern preacher who has made his whole career on the basis of exorcisms has a crisis of faith and is not going to do exorcisms any more- except for this last one.

The interesting point is why Rev. Marcus loses his faith. He loses his faith because his son has some sort of disease when he's born. Doctors save his son and he's very grateful. What causes him trouble is that he realizes that he's more grateful to the doctors than to God. He concludes that God had nothing to do with the cure of his son, but rather the doctors did. Hence he begins to lose his faith.

What's fascinating about this is that his belief that the God works without means comes through in both kingdoms. In other words, Lutheran typically think of Enthusiasm as working primarily in the kingdom of the the right hand. The Spirit zaps people without the Word or baptism and they get the Holy Ghost fever and they're saved, right? Rev. Marcus' fictional example (based on many real examples) suggests that belief that God works without means in the kingdom of the right translates into the kingdom of the left as well. From the Lutheran perspective, the doctors were masks of God and therefore Marcus should be grateful to God. From the perspective of Enthusiasm, human or created agents exclude divine agency from working.

It's easy to find a lot of examples of this in real life. There are many, many sects where the idea that one does not rely on secular doctor (or in the case of mental illness) on secular psychologists is very strong.

I would also suggest that one can detect a milder form of this in the activities of the Christian Right in the United States. I of course do not disagree with people like Pat Robertson or Jerry Fallwell that abortion should be illegal or that gay marriage is a bad idea. The point though is that they believe that they tend to think that God cannot work through secular people or the organs of a functionally secular government to achieve God's order.

It should not go unnoticed that Thomas Munzter's Enthusiasm led to an insistence on the need for the creation of a earthly theocracy. In other words, the secular princes in Germany couldn't be means of God's order. Only a spiritually inspired leadership could directly implement it, and that meant Munzter.


  1. Are we sure that Luther was indifferent to the question of the piety of earthly rulers? In the Small Catechism he points out that pious and faithful magistrates are part of the way that God provides for us our daily bread. Luther does not seems to express a definate preference for pious, faithful rulers. He did not live this side of the enlightenment. I think some of what we say in the two kindgoms doctrine might seem very strange to M. Luther. Luther lived in a throughly Constantinian society and set up a state Church. We have made him out to be the patron saint of Church State seperationism. I am not sure he would be as sanguine about secular government and secular leaders as we think he would.

  2. Yes, you are correct. Luther also believed that blasphemy should be punished. Nevertheless, he did think that a wise Turk or Catholic could be better than a foolish Evangelical.

  3. Have you been able to track down that reference in Luther's writings? I think it is aprocryphal. That seems to happen so much to Luther. I do think church state sepratism is in the best interest of the LCMS. We are unlikely to elect a Fredrick the Wise or a John the Steadfast to the Presidency of the USA.

  4. I say that I've never heard the statement is apocryphal. In any case, I think it expresses his position well. If we are divided in our willing betweent that which is above us where we are unfree and that which is below us which is free-this realm including government- then any ruler, no matter what their religion is capable of being a good one if they use their freedom and rationality to excercise civil righteousness, correct? Now, I think we should try to choose a ruler with a good character, but they don't have to be theologically on board with me to have a generally good character in a civil sense.

    We are indeed unlikely to elect John the Steadfast. When I hear people think that we should be a Christian nation or that this idea should be promoted in the classroom I get nervious. I get nervious not because I dislike religion in the public square, but because I know what they really mean by Christian is "Baptist."

    Lutherans in American should always remember that we are a religious minority.