Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

7 Jan 2014

To Duck or Not to Duck


The Duck Dynasty controversy has finally slipped into the periphery, and most are glad to leave it that way. Franklin Graham, however, recently fired a parting shot—and one that crossed a key line of demarcation. Specifically, he expressed “amazement at how many churches have apparently ‘ducked’ out on the issue,” failed to enter the “culture war,” and instead fell “into the trap of being politically correct, under the disguise of tolerance.”

Here’s my problem with Mr. Graham’s comments (well, one of them, at least): he does not seem to be able to distinguish between the role of the individual believer and the role of the gathered church. As a Christian living in society, I admit to taking an interest in the Duck Dynasty melee. I took an interest because I am concerned that the American political system has begun to fail seriously in it primary responsibility of ensuring “that humanity be maintained among men” (Calvin, Institutes 4.20.3). Specifically in this case, the system is failing to preserve the most basic of human institutions (the family) and doing so with such aggression that the private sector (in this case, A&E) has concluded that suppression of basic human freedoms is the only appropriate course of action. As a voting member of my civil society I was alarmed, and did my part to voice my alarm.

In so doing, I was not speaking in any official capacity as a spokesman for my church. To do so would have been a serious error. Unlike civil government, the institutional church has no mandate to “maintain humanity among men.” Its sole directive is to create and cultivate followers of Jesus Christ in the context of local churches. For my church to take a stand with the Duck Dynasty would be to create Gospel confusion, because the Robertsons, as I understand it, are members of a Campbellite sect whose theology is so suspect that their very Christian identity is in question. Furthermore, it would in some sense give approval to a lifestyle which, while an improvement on much of what is on television, is scarcely a superlative model of Christian discipleship.

Many have pointed to these deficiencies as a clear reason for believers to avoid speaking to this controversy entirely. I would argue instead that these deficiencies are reasons for churches to avoid speaking to the controversy. They are irrelevant, however, for individual believing citizens of God’s civil sphere. Here one forms alliances not based on common creeds, but on common civility, natural law, and the dictates of the law of God written upon the heart. Here one may collaborate, commiserate, befriend, and defend fellow-humans on the ground of natural theology and common grace, irrespective of their views of God and Scripture. Indeed, I would go so far as to argue that the failure of individual Christians to do these things is equally as crippling to the Gospel as the ecclesiastical confusion introduced above.

As Christians we are members of two societies—the church and civil society. Christ is Lord of both societies, but the two societies are and must remain distinct in order for the Gospel to progress without confusion or impediment.

9 Responses

  1. I’d be interested to hear more on the point you raise, “…because the Robertsons, as I understand it, are members of a Campbellite sect whose theology is so suspect that their very Christian identity is in question.” What aspects of this sect would you call their Christian identity into question?

  2. Mark Snoeberger

    I have been given to understand that they hold to baptismal regeneration. But I may be misinformed. If so, please let me know.

  3. paul

    In this two kingdom view, can a Christian take a libertarian position with respect to civil society and still be faithful to the gospel? Could he see the Duck Dynasty situation as merely two parties exercising their respective liberty and the chips falling where they may?

  4. Mark Snoeberger

    I’d start by saying that the church has only one valid response to this situation, and that is a laissez-faire response. That’s the major point of my post. Responding to this cultural issue is the purview of civil society (i.e., humans collectively qua humans), not of the church.

    That being said, I’m not sure I’m prepared to say that there is a single right response for believing citizens of civil society. Politics is a stewardship of power, so it wouldn’t be right to blow off that stewardship entirely–Christians should be good citizens. But there is more than one way to faithfully discharge the stewardship of citizenship:

    (1) A believer might reasonably argue that defending Phil is a poor use of political capital that will do little to advance the chief end of human government, viz., creating a society in which “we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” and find multiplied opportunities for the Gospel (1 Tim 2:2–3).

    (2) One might reasonably argue that defending Phil is a poor use of political capital for a completely opposite reason, viz., that it may actually create a society that applauds crass and unnecessarily offensive speech that is not conducive to the Gospel (Eph 4:29).

    (3) One might reasonably argue that defending Phil is an effective use of political capital by the individual believer to do his part in collectively restraining depravity in society (2 Thess 2:6–7, arg.).

    Options abound, and I’m not about to suggest that my response was the only valid or even the best response to the DD situation. But I do think that there are biblically informed responses and biblically uninformed responses even when we are dealing, as we are, with natural-law scenarios.

    So to summarize, a 2K proponent would never mandate a single correct course of action for all Christians relative to the DD situation, but he would never throw it into the realm of neutrality either. Did I answer your question?

  5. paul

    Thanks for your answer. I guess I’m wondering how far beyond living our own peaceful and quiet lives in godliness and holiness we as Christian citizens are obligated to strive for in the civil realm. I guess you would say that’s a judgment call on our part, but that we are responsible to the Lord for what we do as citizens.

  6. Mark Snoeberger

    Yes, more or less. But I’d want to add that my function as a husband, parent, neighbor, employee, American citizen, etc., must reflect the most biblically informed and best stewardship that I can muster. So while it’s a “judgement call” how I live out each of these roles, it’s never a matter of absolute liberty or neutrality. It’s just an matter of personal responsibility/accountability over and against ecclesiastical responsibility/accountability.

  7. Mark Snoeberger

    If I can add one more thing. Sometimes the 2K model is caricatured as one that has a very regulated, careful, and organized Sunday service, but once Monday arrives, anything goes. Informed 2K adherents would say that Christ regulates BOTH spheres, but through very different accountability structures. I don’t answer to the church for my voting record or for whether I shoveled off my sidewalk, but I do answer to God–and God through Scripture speaks to everything.

  8. Michael Blevins

    ‘For my church to take a stand with the Duck Dynasty would be to create Gospel confusion, because the Robertsons, as I understand it, are members of a Campbellite sect whose theology is so suspect that their very Christian identity is in question.’

    Many could say the same about Calvinist, Wesleyans, or what ever background we come from. There Church is lead by a man who attended Seminary, much as I am sure you did, along with Jase Robertson who did as well. Every Sermon, address, testimony, or the like that I have witnessed from that family, not only on the A&E televised show but from engagements around the country that I have watched or read, they are theologically sound and morally just. Never are their views radical, ridiculous, or vengeful. Sure, Phil got a little more in depth and coarse than maybe you or I would in an interview, but Satan doesn’t hold back and become g-rated while attacking God’s own.

    In this society, the problems that we have and the depths in which we have fallen, we are only called to ‘create and cultivate followers of Christ in the context of local churches?’ I do not believe there is a context of a local church call in the Great Commission. Too often we view the church as separate little pods placed in a broken world. The only context of the church should be a living breathing organism impacting the world around it. Christ was never neutral. He did not come to toe political lines. I hope in my err that I misinterpreted your take, but to be idol on the cultural struggles, especially when it pertains to a Gospel related stances of believers, of our times is detrimental to the outreach of the Gospel.

    People don’t like to hear that what they are doing, how they are living, and that they are dying and going to Hell, but we are called to point it out in love. We are not called to sit idly by while the hurting and lost drudge their ways comfortably to a eternity of death apart from the Creator of life.

  9. Mark Snoeberger

    Michael, thanks for your comments. You make some good points, but I’d like to push back on a couple of them:

    (1) The differences between Calvinists and Wesleyans are important, and collaboration between such churches could create confusion on some level. Still, I think it is fair to say that both groups, diverse as they are, get the Gospel right. That’s much different from a church that preaches baptism as necessary for salvation. Unfortunately, White’s Ferry Road Church has no published doctrinal statement, so the exactness of the creed espoused by the Robertsons is rather slippery, but if anything, that makes ecclesiastical support even more tenuous.

    (2) No one said that Christians are to be idle with respect to the shortcomings of our culture. This thread has been quite clear that Christians should be involved in politics, neighborliness, restraining vice and social injustice, etc., etc. What I’ve said instead is that the organized church is never called to these functions without its own walls. I’d appeal to Greg Gilbert and Kevin DeYoung’s What is the Mission of the Church for a formal defense of this claim. I personally signed the “I Stand with Phil” petition for the reasons I listed above. My church did not sign it, nor should they have, not because they are “neutral” or “politically correct” (as Graham suggests) but because they don’t see this kind of activity as part of the biblical mission of the church.

    I could say more, but I’ll leave it at those two points. Hopefully this helps to clarify where I am on this.