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Guest Appearance

Gregory Baus on Sphere Sovereignty (Biblical Anarchy Podcast)

This episode was originally ep.36 of the Daniel 3 Podcast, and was republished as ep.25 of The Biblical Anarchy Podcast, with minor edits, which can be found here:
(The audio player at the top of this page is the republished version, so the timestamps below do not exactly correspond)

For a 30 minute excerpt of the heart of this discussion, see here:

3:35 beginning

5:59 about Gregory
Previous appearance, discussing Romans 13:

9:15 becoming anarchist
Foundations of Libertarian Ethics:

16:00 helpful arguments
Answers to minarchist objections:

19:35 sphere sovereignty intro
Christian theory, not exegesis

21:10 historical background
Basic definition: a view of the normative arrangement among and relations between different kinds of societal communities
+ Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer (1801 – 1876) introduced the phrase ‘sovereignty within one’s own sphere/circle’
part of the European Calvinist revival/awakening (Réveil) of 1820s
+ Abraham Kuyper (1837 – 1920) developed the idea further
(1880 lecture on Sphere Sovereignty)
+ Herman Dooyeweerd (1894 – 1977) refined it philosophically
More on Dooyeweerd and his philosophy:

other predecessors
+ Althusius (1557 – 1638)
+ Alsted (1588 – 1638)

The issues concerning sphere sovereignty arose in terms of the questions of the relation between church and state (and properly defining and limiting their respective powers) after the medieval period

Reformed political resistance theology

Sphere sovereignty is like a kind of ‘division of labor’ among communities

33:16 sphere sovereignty explained
The Reformed Libertarianism Statement:
See especially part 2 on What is society?

Scriptural teaching about basic diversity of created reality (‘each according to its own kind’)

Kuyper’s 1869 article “Uniformity: the curse of modern life”; about the dreary artificial sameness imposed on things in the statist/collectivistic mindset

Scriptural ‘organic’ metaphor about differentiated functions coordinated variously

Society is not a single whole, rather it is several different kinds of relations involving both individuals and groups; neither is more basic or has their origin in the other

Community is not just individuals (or inter-individual relation), rather it is relatively more enduring and involves authority arrangements

Individuals are not mere parts of communities, but wholes in themselves

Each kind of community is distinguished from other kinds by its own intrinsic nature, differently characterized in its organization and purpose, governed by its own God-given norms

No single kind of community properly encompasses or regulates all the others. Nor does any particular community of a given kind properly encompass or regulate all the others of that same kind

Not a collectivistic view of so-called ‘subsidiarity,’ which, while seeking to be bottom-up, affirming that the lowest level of organization has original jurisdiction, nevertheless subsumes all societal communities (as so-called ‘mediating institutions’) under an all-encompassing state

58:00 Summary:

  1. real communities; distinct kinds
  2. each kind of community (sphere) has its own directly God-normed intrinsic nature, scope of activity, competence, and limited authority
  3. society not a single whole merely decentralized or bottom-up (not hierarchically arranged ‘subsidarity’)
  4. within a given sphere, no particular community encompasses or regulates others of the same kind


A state’s monopoly is in principle totalitarian, and always increasingly tends toward totalitarianism in practice

1:05:45 What is civil governance?
(see part 3 of Reformed Libertarianism Statement)

Only God in Christ is absolutely sovereign; this biblical teaching entails that no mere human authority is properly total (and so the monopoly state is inherently antinormative)

Gregory’s paper on sphere sovereignty:
2008 conference presentation:

Even Christians are sinners who might sinfully seek to justify abuse by appeal to authority; total depravity is REAL
Does Human Sinful Nature Make Civil Government Necessary?
Sproul on ‘total depravity’:

Response to theonomy
Kline’s article on theocracy:
Lee Irons’ article:
Lane Tipton’s article:
T. David Gordon’s article:

Upper Register podcast
Lee Irons’ website:
Series on covenantal history:
Friday Night Academy:

Seeking to coercively enforce moral law (beyond proper civil-justicial rights) outside the old covenant is a usurping of God’s sole prerogative, and amounts to statist pagan idolatry

1:34:44 sphere sovereignty as related to ‘spontaneous order’
See Reformed Libertarianism statement, especially 2.c (and following) on Polycentric and Emergent Order
The Tradition of Spontaneous Order, by Norman Barry

The broader ‘polycentric societal complex’ is coordinated emergently, through the self-governance of each instance of the varieties of relations and each particular community of the several distinct kinds

By God’s creational design, a dynamic societal harmonization comes about cumulatively through the varieties of normative human action, but apart from any human individual’s or community’s specific intention or attempt at comprehensive coercive regulation

Also see a summary of spontaneous order in this 9th vid:

Particular endeavors require planning, but society overall, and any sphere, is far too complex to be planned or coercively regulated; any attempt at such coercive regulation is inherently antinormative resulting in severe distortion

1:46:33 Can we know God is real?, by Roy Clouser
See also Knowing With The Heart:
and The Myth Of Religious Neutrality (which also deals with sphere sovereignty):

Teaser: “proof” (inference) is not the only means of rationally justifying a belief


The Reformed Libertarians Podcast is a project of the Libertarian Christian Institute  and a member of the Christians for Liberty Network

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