“The Audacity of the State” by Douglas Farrow

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A new article by Douglas Farrow from Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, argues that modern comprehensive liberalism, 

has as one of its fundamental premises that Western society has done away with Christian theology (I do not say, all theology) as a matter of public and political relevance. And so it has. But that has opened the field to would-be saviors and utopians of every stripe. It has made possible the return of the savior state—the audacious state that aims at building a kingdom of God right here on earth.

The danger, Farrow argues, is not the re-emergence of Christendom, but the loss of a proper understanding of Christendom which itself historically required a separation of church and state, because to “combine these offices (with their respective ‘swords’) belonged to Christ alone, and any other claimant to both was ipso facto a kind of Antichrist.” So it is not Christendom per se which is the problem, but both a Christendom and, as Farrow calls it, a “sacralized savior state” which loses their “eschatological reserve.” The grand irony (if I may use such a term of understatement) is that,

In Britain, and increasingly in North America, even churches and charitable organizations are not exempted from laws that demand conformity to state-endorsed ideologies loaded with religious implications. Penalties for violation include heavy fines or even imprisonment. Thus have we come round to accepting Erastus’s invitation to the state to punish the sins of Christians, supplanting the church’s sacramental discipline. We have come round, that is, to the de-sacralization of the church and the re-sacralization of the state, which is once again taking a tyrannical turn.

Farrow goes on explore how the emergence of the “savior state” (which he defines as any state which “presents itself as the people’s guardian, as the guarantor of the citizen’s well-being) leads to increasing state control of education and of the family (or more specifically, of children).

So how should Christians respond? Not with revengefulness, or even despair. Rather, Farrow concludes: “Christians deny that the state is savior because they believe that God is savior. Their hope is not, like Mill’s, in the state; nor, like libertarians’, in themselves. Their hope, like Hannah’s, is in God.”

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2 thoughts on ““The Audacity of the State” by Douglas Farrow

  1. David,
    This is an excellent article and I think he is right on. Augustine’s eschatological tension can be erased in two ways: one in Christendom when the Church tried to take over the State and one in modernity when the State tries to take over the Church. Since the publication of my book, I have been astonished by the many people who want to bash the Church’s role in Christendom but give the modern State a free pass. It has caused me to rethink “Rethinking” and Farrow has been a great help.

  2. Hello, Craig. Thanks for the comment. I’ll have to take a look at your book.

    And I’m glad to re-connect again! I also have added your blog to my reader.

    So when are we going to re-start the Canadian chapter of the Karl Barth Society?

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