[This is the first in a series of posts on Wayne Grudem’s Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture].
Wayne Grudem begins his discussion of politics and the Bible by outlining five wrong views. These include: (1) Government Should Compel Religion, (2) Government Should Exclude Religion, (3) All Government Is Evil And Demonic, (4) Do Evangelism, Not Politics, and (5) Do Politics, Not Evangelism. Lets look at each of these unbiblical approaches.
Government Should Compel Religion
First, Grudem appeals to the State Church’s that have arisen in Christendom where citizenship and religious affiliation are coterminous. He relates these to the similar models of government found in Islamic nations today. He shows that these are not Scriptural as he points to Jesus making significant distinction between the sphere of Caesar’s kingdom and the sphere of God’s kingdom (Matt 22:20-21). He argues that this view is not tenable according to the Bible, nor does it result in the kind of faith and repentance, that Christ requires.
Government Should Exclude Religion
Second, he argues against the kind of secular government that denies any place to faith. This is the kind of government promoted by the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. In the United States, this view is often grounded on the misunderstood statement about separation of church and state made by Thomas Jefferson in his letter to the Danbury Baptist Church (Danbury, CT). It demands religion to be voiceless in the public sector and it “changes freedom of religion to freedom from religion.” Yet, this was not Jefferson’s intention in 1802, nor is it compatible with the Bible which features numerous examples of God’s people influencing kings and rulers (Joseph, Daniel, John the Baptist, and Paul, to name a few). This kind of regime is also seen in other countries that have persecuted Christians. It is clearly unbiblical.
All Government Is Evil and Demonic
Third, the view that demonizes government does so from a misreading of Luke 4:6 which quotes Satan as saying, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me…” Proponents of this view include Gregory Boyd, who argues that every form and function of government is evil. However, as Grudem points out, Boyd and his ilk, fail to consider the whole counsel of Scripture. For explicitly in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2, Paul and Peter instruct Christians to submit to governing authorities who are discharging God’s ‘ministry’ of government. Moreover, Grudem points out that this view depends on the reliability of Satan’s description of his own authority in Luke 4:6, which is a highly speculative reality based on the deceitful character of Satan (cf. John 8:44).
In the end, Grudem points out that this view fails to recognize the difference between good and evil systems of government, and by extension it calls good evil and evil good. Thus, it leaves citizens paralyzed and unable to resist or reform governmental structures for the good. It results in an insipid pacifism that is not what the Bible requires.
Do Evangelism, Not Politics
Fourth, Grudem challenges evangelicals who distance themselves from political engagement due to the ‘hopeless’ enterprise that it is. He suggests that those who advocate evangelism over against politics “narrow an understanding of ‘the Gospel’ and the kingdom of God” (45). He warns that those who take this approach undervalue the effect that political involvement has for the gospel. He provides a helpful illustration of the difference between heavily evangelized South Korea and repressive North Korea, and the resulting effect this has had in their respective countries. He writes,
Governments can allow churches to meet freely and evangelize or they can prevent these things by force of law (as in Saudi Arabia and North Korea). They can hinder or promote literacy (the latter enabling people to read a Bible). They can stop murderers and thieves and drunk drivers and child predators or allow them to terrorize society and destroy lives. They can promote and protect marriages or hinder and even destroy them. Governments do make a significant difference for the work of God in the world, and we are to pray and work for good governments around the world (46).
While agreeing with his main objection, I think Grudem shows uncharacteristic imprecision on this point. He argues that “the whole Gospel includes a transformation of society” (47). I am not convinced this is “necessarily” true. For instance, in countries where Christianity is outlawed, societal transformation may not come to fruition, because Christians may be martyred before they are ever able to transform their nation. Even in situations where the blood of the martyrs brings change in time, it may take generations, so that to say the gospel “includes a transformation” is a little misleading.
On this point, he continues, “Forgiveness of sins is not the only message of the Gospel” (47). But is that biblically the best way to say it? If Grudem had said, “Forgiveness of sins is not the only message of the Bible,” or “Forgiveness of sins is not the only ministry of the church,” I would agree. The Bible certainly teaches Christians how to love their families, serve their employers, and fight for justice. Likewise, the ministry of the church does include caring for orphans, widows, and the unborn. So then, in these ways, the Bible says more than “Believe on Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” However, when the gospel is defined as “forgiveness” and “societal transformation,” it enlarges the gospel in unbiblical ways.
In fact, Mark Dever preached against this very thing in his 2008 Together For the Gospel message, “Improving the Gospel: Exercises in Unbiblical Theology,” when he warned of making the gospel more than the salvation of sinners (see his chapter in Proclaiming a Cross-Centered Theology, pp. 106-109). Grudem seems to make the gospel message coterminous with the whole counsel of Scripture, and by implication he includes gospel entailments within the message of the gospel.
I think Grudem, when he argues against the “Do evangelism, Not politics” view, but his treatment of the gospel in this section needs more attention. (For more on the central tenets of the gospel, see Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel?) Within this section, however, Grudem does present some other helpful points, namely that God has intended the church and the government to work in tandem to effect positive change against the evil that is resident in our society.
Another point worth pondering in this section is the way that church history has demonstrated countless ways that Christians have influenced government for good. He cites from Alvin Schmidt’s book How Christianity Changed the World, and lists dozens of social improvements from the discontinuation of the Roman gladiatorial games to the prohibition of burning widows alive in India. Then Grudem names a number of Christians who have effected social justice in the world to show how has positively shaped our country (50).
Still, it would be helpful at this point to make a distinction that not all these “Christians” were orthodox, gospel-believing brothers in Christ. No doubt, Martin Luther King, Jr. was used by God to bring about civil rights throughout the United States, but it must be asked, “Was Dr. King’s doctrine orthodox and evangelical?” Grudem doesn’t make that distinction, which is an unfortunate lacuna.
Do Politics, Not Evangelism
Finally, his fifth wrong view is the one that says “Do Politics, Not Evangelism.” According to Grudem, few respected evangelicals hold this Social Gospel view (53), however pastors Rob Bell and Brian McLaren are two influential proponents of a sub-standard gospel message who are advocating political and social change. Their popular books and speaking tours are infecting many with a “New Kind of Christianity” that aims to advance the kingdom of God through social and political involvement and that denudes the gospel of its saving message.
Overall, Grudem’s first chapter is a helpful taxonomy of wrong views of government and politics. It sets the stage for chapter 2, where he will develop “a better solution,” one that urges “significant Christian influence on government” (54). Preparing for this view, he closes his first chapter with a balanced statement on politics according to the Bible.
Genuine, long-term change in a nation will only happen (1) if people’s hearts change so that they seek to do good, not evil; (2) if people’s minds change so that their moral convictions align more closely with God’s moral standards in the Bible; and (3) if a nation’s laws change so that they more full encourage good conduct and punish wrong conduct. Item 1 comes about through personal evangelism and the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Item 2 takes place through personal conversation and teaching and through public discussion and debate. Item 3 comes about through Christian political involvement. All three are necessary (54).
Soli Deo Gloria, dss