Interview with Davenant Fellow Alex Mason


Alex Mason is a native of Lynchburg, Virginia. After completing an undergraduate degree ingovernment from Liberty University, Alex went on to complete graduate degrees in public policy, church history, ethics, and theology from Liberty University, Southeastern Seminary, and Southern Seminary. Currently, he lives in Scotland where he is a PhD candidate in Divinity (Theological Ethics) at the University of Aberdeen. He has a beautiful, talented, and capable wife as well as two delightful and rambunctious little girls who make every day enjoyable. For more than a decade, Alex has worked in the private non-profit sector, and he’s been an university adjunct instructor since 2010. In his free time, Alex likes to visit various Scottish castles with his wife and daughters.

 

1. When did you first realize you wanted to study Theology at an advanced level?

Like many people from the South, I was raised in a Christian home and underwent all my childhood education at a Christian school. As a result, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have regular exposure to Scripture and theology on some level. During my teenage years, however, I was more interested in politics than theology. I entered college with the intention to go on to law school and then a political career. During those college years, I underwent serious discipleship from an older mentor who helped ground me in the truth of the Christian faith as well as the all-encompassing implications of a robust Christian worldview. I began reading deeper theology, which served to whet my appetite for more. As my faith in Christ grew and began to mature, the idea of vocational theology seemed more and more fitting. Near the end of my college education, I decided to apply to seminary instead of law school, a choice that has set my life on a much different trajectory than what I once envisioned. Throughout my seminary education, I was challenged and trained by a variety of brilliant professors who exemplified the rigor and beauty of theology as an academic pursuit. God used those years to instill in me a desire to be a witness in the academy and a servant to the Church, so it didn’t take long before I knew I wanted to go as far as I could with theological education.
 
2. What is your particular area of research?

In the broadest terms, my project aims to excavate a theme and a period that has been formative in the political theology of the modern West. Specifically, I am working with a unique Christian theory of resistance to authority called the doctrine of the lesser magistrate, which was first detailed in Magdeburg Confession of 1550. This doctrine teaches that when a ruler has become an incorrigible tyrant, he has abdicated his claim to legitimacy and relinquished his de jure status in exchange for that of a de facto magistrate. Consequently, those magistrates with lesser authority under him may defy and resist the illegitimate magistrate (and his unjust laws) for the sake of protecting others. For the embattled Protestant Reformation, the Magdeburg Confession became the embodiment of a theology of resistance allowing not only for a right to resist in certain circumstances, but a duty. In order to bring the doctrine into conversation with more recent political theory/theology, I am examining the socio-political and theological context and content of the Confession through a lens crafted from the biopolitical theory of philosopher Giorgio Agamben, whose homo sacer theory offers us a useful metanarrative about the abuse of political power in a fallen world. My purpose for this project is to excavate a theological/ethical understanding of submission and resistance for faithful Christian living in societies hostile to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
 
3. How did you first become interested in this area in particular?

The intersection of Christianity and the state has intrigued me for a long time. Although I ultimately chose seminary over law school, I remained involved in the political arena for a few more years. While attending one seminary, I worked as a campaign manager and a legislative aide in my home state’s capital. I worked for some upstanding Christian people, but the longer I was behind the curtain, the more I became frustrated with the widespread abuse of power and lack of regard for truly good governance. Frankly, you don’t even need to work in government to see the Machiavellian bent of modern secular politics. Those experiences required me to start thinking more clearly and biblically about the God-ordained nature and role of authority as well as the ensuing dynamic between rulers and the ruled. I think my current research is the result of a long convergence between my interests in political theory and Christian theology.
 
4. How would like to see your scholarship impact the church today?

My hope is that this project will help the Church think more carefully and faithfully about submission and resistance. The apostles taught that the default Christian posture before political authority should be that of submission and humility. While resistance is permissible in certain circumstances, those situations are uncommon exceptions borne out of obedience to God. The act of resistance is only meant to be undertaken with a sober mind and a clear conscience before God, but thanks to our culture’s combative, knee-jerk mindset, some citizens foment rebellion and violence because they don’t like a tweet. In what passes for modern political discourse, resistance has been reduced to a brazen yet toothless hashtag. At the root, our concept of obedience has become politicized to the point that we tend to submit to authority so long as it doesn’t infringe upon our own sense of autonomy. Sadly, this incongruity has even infiltrated the political theology of some Christians. Wherever the Church’s understanding of submission and resistance has conformed to a pattern of unbiblical thinking, we must strive to renew and reorient in light of Scripture’s teachings. The Reformers knew this, which is why they addressed the topic of resistance with such care and caution. We would do well to follow their example.

 

5. Why do you like the Davenant Institute / why should Christians be interested?
While many modern Protestants hear the term “Reformation” and think about the famous teachings of Calvin or Luther, the success of the Reformation benefitted from a sizeable roster of contributors and a wide scope of theological topics. Centuries before the Reformation, Anselm described the task of theology as “faith seeking understanding,” a profound reality that the Reformers demonstrated in the volumes of teaching and preaching they left behind. More than any other organization I’ve encountered, The Davenant Institute is serious about the enduring heritage and contemporary value of what the Reformers accomplished. As a Reformed, evangelical organization, The Davenant Institute has done and is doing the diligent work of preservation and resourcement of Reformation understanding for the benefit of the Church. Christians and churches should take a keen interest in the work of The Davenant Institute because it will have a lasting impact on the advance of orthodox, evangelical theology and future of Protestantism itself.