Gone with the Wind: Malcolm Muggeridge on the Effervescence of Geo-Political Rulers

warMy best friend from high school posted this Malcolm Muggeridge quote today on his Facebook account. In light of the world’s unrest, and our need to pray for international peace, they are quite fitting. In an essay entitled “But Not of Christ,” Muggeridge writes,

We look back upon history and what do we see? Empires rising and falling, revolutions and counter-revolutions, wealth accumulating and wealth dispersed, one nation dominant and then another. Shakespeare speaks of ‘the rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon.’

I look back on my own fellow countrymen ruling over a quarter of the world, the great majority of them convinced, in the words of what is still a favorite song, that, ‘God who’s made the mighty would make them mightier yet.’ I’ve heard a crazed, cracked Austrian announce to the world the establishment of a German Reich that would last a thousand years; an Italian clown announce that he would restart the calendar to begin his own ascension to power. I’ve heard a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin acclaimed by the intellectual elite of the world as a wiser than Solomon, more humane than Marcus Aurelius, more enlightened than Ashoka.

I’ve seen America wealthier and in terms of weaponry, more powerful than the rest of the world put together, so that had the American people desired, they could have outdone an Alexander or a Julius Caesar in the range and scale of their conquests.

All in one lifetime. All in one lifetime. All gone with the wind. Continue reading

Take Hold of God and Give Grace: Sixteen Considerations for Election 2016

 

electionWhat do we say to our church in the face of the impending election? Pastor, what will you say to a church divided on the issue? Christian, how are you holding fast to the gospel and protecting your church from the divisions that this election could produce in the church? What is most important in this electoral season—winning the presidency or preserving the Church’s witness to the world?

As a pastor, these are just some of the questions on my mind, and so I write this post as an attempt to help shepherd our church and to think biblically about how Christians might maintain a focus on Christ in this tumultuous season. My prayer and aim is to see Christians of different political convictions retaining focus on Christ and his kingdom, even as they live out their faith in the public square.

And so in 2016, I offer 16 considerations—six ways we can take hold of God and ten ways we can give grace to one another, even as wrestle with the challenges of this year’s election. May God use these to encourage and challenge your heart. May he be pleased to use them to purify our hope in him and our church’s commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

Six Ways to Take Hold of God

1. Take heart in God.

God is sovereign and we can rest in his rule (Psalm 103:19; Daniel 4:34–35). No matter what happens on November 8 (or on any other day), it will not overturn his work in the world. In fact, for good or bad, God will use this election to expose idols, test faith, and ultimately gather sheep. Scripture repeatedly tells us no king, no nation, no president has the absolute power to halt God’s kingdom. We must remember this, preach this to one another, and take comfort in this fact—God’s kingdom has come and is coming. Continue reading

When Evil Solicits Your Vote: Six Lessons from Judas’ Betrayal

 

judsa

Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?
— James 4:3 —

Going back to Cain (Genesis 4), evil has always positioned itself right outside our doors looking to destroy. But recently, Christians in America have faced new challenges. In a country that continues to trample first amendment rights and eviscerate religious liberty, there is great temptation to do anything to maintain our place in the public square. I value that endeavor and lament the way Christians are being threatened in public, but I wonder if we are not being tempted to overcome evil with evil—or at least, the lesser of two evils.

What follows began as a study in Matthew, not an attempt to speak into the political fray. But as I considered the actions of Judas, I couldn’t help but think about Christians who are using (or being tempted to use) their proximity to Jesus as a means of securing our worldly standing. In truth, as Psalm 118:8–9 says, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.”

With that truth in mind, I share a few observations about Judas that I pray will protect us from putting confidence in earthly princes, and instead will steel our resolve to take refuge in Christ. Continue reading

Politics According to the Bible (5): The Courts

[This is the fifth 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].

ULTIMATE POWER

In his final chapter in the section on basic principles, Grudem explains the way in which the United States government established its ‘separations of powers.’  He commends the American experiment of subjecting a people to a law (e.g. The Constitution), instead of a ruler.  Whereas in the history of the world, most nations were governed through monarchs or power-grabbing dictators, the founding fathers established a ‘document’ as the ‘highest authority’ in the land (124). Grudem lists 5 positive elements of this political system.

(1) Separation of powers which limited the absolute power of any one group.
(2) Accountability for lawmakers through the means of representative governors who were elected by popular vote.
(3) Rule of law which was an objective standard for all people.
(4) Protection from fundamental change so that the country would continue to be what it was originally intended to be.
(5) Protection from a hasty majority through the predetermined intervals of elections.

ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE, WHAT SHOULD JUDGES DO

True to his word, Grudem examines what the Bible says about judges.  He affirms the goodness and justice that is promoted when a body of judges rule according to an external standard.  In the Bible, priests served as judges and based their decisions on the laws of God (Ezek 44:24; Ezra 7:25-27). Accordingly, good judges are not to show partiality or take bribes (Deut 16:18-20).  Rather judges rule justly when they uphold and apply the good laws of the land.  On this Grudem lists a number of relevant Scriptures (131).

It is interesting to see what Grudem is doing in this section and throughout most of his book.  He primarily evalutates the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of the United States by laying them against the biblical texts that concern law and government.  His approach is not quite theonomy–the direct use and application of the Mosaic law to contemporary government–but sometimes it seems that he is taking specific Bible verses to solve the problems of modern politics.

However, I think that there needs to be a more thoughtful interaction.  In other words, he moves directly from biblical text to contemporary situation through the application of biblical principles.  The problem is that there needs to be an understanding of the text in its biblical context and in the progress of revelation (i.e. the rest of the Bible) and history before it can be applied to modern America.

Russell Moore’s sixfold approach is much better.  In his ethics class, he advocated a sixfold progression of applying the Bible.  In order, they were (1) Christ, (2) the Kingdom of Christ, (3) the Church, (4) the Individual Christian, (5) Society at large, and (6) Politics.  When we aim to think biblically about politics, we must not skip over Christ, the Kingdom, the Church, the Christian, and the effect of Salt and Light in society.  Unfortunately, I think Grudem does this to some degree.  Or at least, as he moves from the biblical horizon to the political horizon, he simply flies over the other areas. More nuance is needed– as will be seen below.

ACCORDING TO U.S. HISTORY, WHAT HAVE JUDGES DONE

From his inquiry into the Bible, Grudem turns to examine the judicial system in the United States.  He brings to light the fact that in the last 50 years, the Supreme Court has been the single most influential body in all the government.  In fact, he shows how one man, Anthony Kennedy, actually retains the power to change the whole course of the nation. As the justices debate issues related to abortion, homosexuality, religion and the public square, hate speech, and more (150-51), Kennedy is the single swing vote between 4 conservative judges and 4 liberal.  Thus, what he says goes.  This was not how the United States was established, but through the growing awareness that the liberal agenda could be more speedily achieved through the Supreme Court, legislators began appointing justices would “discover” new meanings in the constitution.  They have kept the constitution but changed its meaning.

Grudem gives 6 examples where the Supreme Court has failed to interpret the Constitution, instead they have created new law by finding new meaning in the original text.  The problem is one of “originalism” or its denial.  Conservative justices (like Alito, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas) read the Constitution attempting to understand the original meaning of the document with its contemporary applications.  Liberal justices (like Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Stevens) deny “originalism” and thus import their own understanding into the legal document.  This problem is akin to the debate among liberal and conservative Bible readers.  What inerrancy and a literal hermeneutic is to the Bible; originalism is to the Constitution.

Grudem quotes a long section from Supreme Court Nominee, Robert Bork.  Judge Bork was nominated by President Reagan, but failed to be appointed because so many senators opposed his conservative reading of the constitution.  In his book on the matter, The Tempting of America, he writes, “Either the Constitution and statutes are law, which means that their principles are known and control judges, or they are malleable texts that judges may rewrite to see that particular groups or political causes win… ” (Quoted by Grudem 149).

APPOINTING ‘ORIGINALIST’ JUDGES IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE FACING THE NATION TODAY

On this matter of “originalism,” Grudem points out that this is the greatest political issue today, because if a liberal bench is established on the Supreme Court, the commitment to re-writing the Constitution will have no check.  The problem with the Supreme Court is that it is an entity that is not held accountable to the people.  Whereas the U.S. Government was created to separate the powers of creating law and ruling law, as Bork says, “a judge has begun to rule where a legislator should” (148).

Grudem says that a “Christian worldview should lead us to support judges who rule according to the ‘original intent.’  He goes on to point out since governors and presidents are the ones who appoint the Supreme Court and Appelate Court Justices, and that federal and state level congressional houses are the ones who confirm or deny their nomination, that who we vote for matters for who will serve as judges.  He goes one step further too.  Recognizing the conservative tendencies of the Republican party and the liberalizing tendencies of the Democratic party, he says that “if Democrats are elected to the US Senate, they will tend to perpetuate the system of activist judges.”  Likewise, on the state level, Democratic candidates will by-and-large promote activist judges.  “On the other hand, Republicans (not entirely, but for the most part) have sought to support judges at both state and national levels who hold to the original intent of the Constiution and the laws that have been passed.  Therefore voting for Republican candidates for state and national positions is the best way…to bring about change and break the rule of unaccountable judges over our society” (154).

This is a very definitive prescription for voters going to the polls and one that many Christians would embrace, but I am not sure it is the most helpful way to frame “politics according to the Bible.” (See my reasoning below).

FINAL REFLECTIONS

If you know little about the way the judicial system in America works, Grudem’s chapter is a good start.  Moreover, his selection of court cases show the way the Supreme Court has shaped the moral landscape of our country.  For me, it has shown me a whole new way to pray for our government, namely to pray for the likes of Anthony Kennedy and the other 8 justices.  We ought to pray for the upcoming appointments of the next generation of justices (4 of them are over 70).  And we ought to vote and encourage others to vote for those candidates who will install judges that hold to the original meaning of the constitution and who have conservative views in keeping with a biblical view of life and justice.

With that said, Grudem makes the jump to say that we ought to vote Republican, but I think he missteps at this point.  He is correct to say that in our current climate Republicans will more often nominate and appoint conservative judges to fill in the gaps.  In this way, his recommendation is a shorthand version of the solution.  However, in his recommendation, he does not say enough.  The truth of the matter is that both parties have been heavily influenced by three centuries of Enlightenment thought and are not seeking to the kingdom of Christ the way many Christians would like to think that they are.  Political interests in Washington are for Washington, not Zion.

So in Grudem’s case, it is easy, and will win the approval of many, to simply name a party affiliation and say that they will provide the solution, but for those who are citizens of the kingdom of heaven (Phil 3:20), we cannot simply take on political brand names.  We must evaluate every candidate we vote for as Christians who see the world through biblical lens.  Grudem examines the judges in the light of Bible, but does not do the same thing with the political party system–not yet at least.

It would be far better to say that Christians should vote for the candidate who holds conservative positions and who will appoint justices who will interpret the law not create or discover new laws from within the constitution.  This requires more thought and discernment, and perhaps more complexity because there may not be an ideal candidate, but as we think about it biblically, we need to say more than simply “Vote Republican!” or “Vote Democrat!”

The bottom line is that our Christian allegiance and our party affiliation are not one and the same.  Because we are in Christ, his kingdom and his gospel and his ethics take priority over every human institution and political agenda.  I might liken it to a double-numbered highway.  There are times when we drive that we simultaneously travel on a road that functions as both a state highway and a local road.  However, there comes a critical point in the journey when you have to make a decision, will you stay on the state highway or will you turn off on the local road?  So it is in this life, as Christians there may be times when our convictions align with a certain political view, leader, or party; however, we are always ready to turn against any institution, party, or leader that changes its agenda against the kingdom of God.  We may walk in unity for a time, but in the end Christ’s rule must be unmistakeable in our allegiances.

As Christians we walk a narrow path, one that often leaves a very light impression on the political machinery at work in this world.  Consequently, our hope cannot be in the nation-states of today, but in the kingdom of Christ that is coming tomorrow.  Our lives are immensely political, but they must always be governed by Christ and his Holy Spirit.  The moment we begin to equate party politics with kingdom politics, we run the serious risk of compromising the radical and other-worldly nature of the kingdom we proclaim.  Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world, and so as we actively engage in politics today, we must do so looking for and hoping in the kingdom that will not by means of electoral votes, but rather through the immediate return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of his universal reign.

Marantha, dss

Environmentalism, Capitalism, Wealth, and Taxation: A Guest Post From David Crater

I am thankful for friends who think biblically and who challenge me to think more faithfully about matters of life that I have limited expertise.  David Crater is one of those friends who has helped me to think through many matters pertaining to church, theology, and now public policy.  I met Dave in seminary, and look forward to continuing to glean from his wisdom as he has recently moved into Southern Indiana.  I have benefitted much from his legal expertise (he finished his J.D. from the University of Colorado a year ago) and his pastoral wisdom (he finished his M.Div in the same year).

Thinking through the issues of environmentalism, capitalism, and other politic matters, David Crater has given much food for thought for Christians wrestling with “politics according to the Bible.”  Consider these four miscellanies.

1.Environmentalism. Both Darwinism and environmentalism are examples of what Paul calls “worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator” in Rom 1. Environmentalism is not just subjecting mankind to the creation (though it is that), but abandoning the worship of God for the exaltation of what is created.

2. Capitalism. Capitalism is not utopia, and symptoms of sin permeate capitalism as they do every phase of life. But capitalism is the only moral economic system because the ownership of property is an essential characteristic of human beings as God’s image bearers. God owns everything, but He has delegated ownership to those who bear His image so that they can more fully image Him on earth, and commanded them to use what they own to produce wealth and build things and thereby subdue the earth. This system is what came to be known in modern language as capitalism. Capitalism is not destructive at root but productive at root because it is man imaging God’s ownership and creative activity.

The word “capital” means “wealth available for investment and productive activity.” It contrasts with wealth that is intended for consumption and that therefore cannot be used to produce further wealth. God owns all capital, but if He is going to command something like “fill the earth and subdue it,” His creatures need capital to fulfill the command. Nothing can be created without capital. The earth is the source of this capital God has provided, and the system that arises from the command and the obedience is properly called “capitalism.”

3. The Bible and Personal Wealth. We should balance discussions of capitalism with a reminder that the Bible is very hard on the wealthy. This comes out most prominently in Luke’s gospel, and Christianity has historically been a religion of the lower classes by and large, not the wealthy (cf. Luke 6:20-26; 8:14; 12:13-21; 16:1-13; 16:19-31; 18:18-30; cf. 1 Tim 6:17-19).  Capitalism is dangerous precisely because it is so powerfully productive. It makes people rich, and wealth then leads sinful men to become proud and corrupt themselves and turn away from God instead of thanking and glorifying God for the ability to create wealth (cf. Prov 30:8). Thus Jesus says it is easier for a camel to pass through a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus is not opposing property ownership or wealth creation, but He also is not a shill for laissez faire capitalism. He condemns in the strongest possible terms the pride and folly to which the rich are peculiarly liable. Recognizing this teaching is the answer to the sinful abuses of capitalism and wealth, not a socialistic or communistic utopia that denies mankind possesses the right to own and destroys his ability to create value.

4. Personal Wealth and Taxes. Jesus’ (and the apostles’) warnings against the dangers of wealth are ‘individual and family and church warnings.’  That is to say, they are private in nature, not public justification for public legal interference with property and free enterprise. Indeed, government must defend property and enterprise to make the widespread private charity and generosity the Bible commands even a possibility.

When God warned the Jews in 1 Samuel that a king would pillage their goods (8:10-18), the tax rate He warned them the king would impose was 20% (10% of their grain, 10% of their flocks). In biblical terms, then, a tax rate of 20% is oppressive. God Himself only commands a tenth as the size of the part He wants given back for His own service and worship (Mal 3:8, 10).  The implications of this for modern systems of taxation and government revenue are staggering, and it is no coincidence that as God has been increasingly rejected by US public culture in the 20th century, tax rates have skyrocketed.

May we continue to “provide for ourselves moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in heaven that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys” (Luke 12:33), for only then will our joy be secure.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

 

Politics According to the Bible (4): A Biblical Worldview

[This is the fourth 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].

Before moving forward in his investigation of “politics according the Bible,” Grudem spends a short chapter reviewing the basics tenets of the Christian Worldview.  To most thoughtful Christians, his six points will be familiar.  Nevertheless, it is helpful to see the worldview that the Bible gives us, so that in all ethical, legal, and political decisions we are working with a biblical framework and not one of our personal development.  Our politics must be informed by the Bible, not vice versa.

A BIBLICAL WORLDVIEW

(1) God Created Everything

Grudem refers to the explicit teaching of Genesis 1-2, Revelation 4:11, Psalm 19:1, and Romans 1:20, among others to assert the Biblical view that the God who made the world and everything in it, is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus.  While this view has been contested and even excluded from public education in America for decades, it is the clear biblical position.  Amalgamations of this view where Christian try to reconcile the Bible with evolution continue to be concocted (e.g. theistic evolution); however, such a marriage of faith and reason produces sterile offspring.  Scripture is clear: God made all things, and thus has creator rights over everything.  Biblically, man is not at liberty to govern apart from recognizing the creator.  Many attempts have been made to erect governments that deny deity, but God’s wisdom proves true, such disconnection from God will not sustain ethical living, and society suffers.

(2) The One True God Reveals Himself and His Moral Standards Clearly in the Bible

The God of creation is the God who reveals his character to his people.  In the Bible, God’s standard is seen in Genesis 2:17, when he warns Adam and Eve that disobedience results in death.  Likewise, as Grudem points out, God the creator is God the judge of all people.  He writes, “The moral standards that God reveals in the Bible are not simply moral standards for one particular church or one particular religion, but are the moral standards for which the one true God… will hold every single person accountable at the last judgment” (118).  To support his point, Grudem cites  1 Peter 4:4-5 and Acts 17:24, 30-31 which teach that the risen Christ has been given the scepter of God to rule and judge over all the earth (cf Psalm 2).

This truth impacts the way we think about politics in that the standard for any official in government is not the cultural norm or the majority view, it is the character of God and the truth of God’s Word.

(3) The Original Creation was ‘Very Good’

Not only is God’s character revealed in creation (cf. Rom 1:20) and in his word (Exodus 20:1-17), but in creation itself, the goodness of God is perceived.  In Genesis 1:31 God judges his world and declares the verdict: “It is very good.”  Moreover, God tells the man to cultivate and keep the garden and to extend its borders to fill the earth with its cultivated beauty.  Had Adam and Eve not sinned, the people of God would have proliferated, spreading the glory of God over the whole earth (cf. Hab 2:14), exercising dominion and subduing all things as they were created to do.  Thus, in a perfect world government would have existed to promote the general welfare of God’s people (82).  As we think about politics in our day, it is helpful to remember the enterprise is not intrinsically evil and anarchy and malevolent governors are a result of sin.

(4) Because Adam and Eve Sinned, There is Moral Evil (‘Sin’) in the Heart of Every Human Being

We live in a moral universe, where good and evil exist and compete.  This is true within the church, and it is true in government; and how one interprets the nature of humanity will determine how one does politics.  It is not too much to say that this singular point is the continental divide between liberals and conservatives; the former believes in the intrinsic goodness of man, while the latter recognizes the limitations and inherent evil in the heart of every human being.  Grudem writes, “This one idea, that human beings are viewed as sinful before the absolute moral standards of the one true God, has immense implications for numerous policy differences between Republicans and Democrats (as will be seen in the chapters that follow)” (119).

Thus, the Bible’s worldview concerning humanity, sin, and the evil of society, as well as the possibility for good, will significantly shape our view of politics. As Grudem points out

This biblical principle means that evil does not come merely from the influence of society on a person, and those who do evil are not merely victims of external influences that they have experienced. Certainly there are evil influences on people, and society should try to remove those influences where possible. Nevertheless, doing evil things is still a result of a person’s evil choices, and people therefore should be held accountable for the evil they do.

By contrast to this viewpoint, a secular perspective would tend to believe that human beings are basically good and therefore when they do wrong the primary reason be because something in society has harmed them and has caused them to act in wrong ways. Thus, some part of society will be mostly blamed for the wrong, and wrongdoer himself will more likely be viewed primarily as a “victim,” not a wrongdoer. This difference accounts for many political differences regarding responses to crime and to the threat of international terrorism (121).

How one understands the depravity of man effects the nature of the gospel message and also the nature of government.

(5) Because Adam and Eve Sinned, God Place a Curse on the Entire Natural World

Just as our view of humanity impacts the way we approach politics, so does our view of the entire world.  Understanding that the entire created realm–people, animals, and creation–are under God’s curse (cf. Gen 3:14-19) delimits the kind of improvements men are capable of making in this world (e.g. it urges caution when any leader promises utopian change).  Simultaneously, it recognizes that we living in a world filled with “thorns and thistles” will require that much of the governments work to promote the good, is to help citizens overcome the dangers and difficulties faced in our environment.  All the while, this kind of legislation cannot subject men to the creation, for man was created to rule the earth, not be ruled by it. This leads to Grudem’s sixth point.

(6) God Wants Human Beings to Develop the Earth’s Resources and to Use Them Wisely and Joyfully

Mankind was put on earth to cultivate it and to keep it.  Genesis 1:28 commands Adam and Eve to subdue, rule, and have dominion. This is often misunderstood and easily mishandled. Grudem explains, “these commands to subdue the earth and have dominion over it do not mean that we should use the earth in a wasteful or destructive way or intentionally treat animals with cruelty (Prov 12:10; cf. Deut 20:19-20; Matt 22:39)… We should use the resources of the earth wisely, as good stewards, not wastefully or abusively” (123).  Thus humanity is encouraged by Scripture to “beautiful homes, automobiles, airplanes, computers, and millions of other consumer goods” (123), and governments should aid in the process.

This kind of biblical mandate leads to discussions of the environment and economics, something Grudem will tackle in the ensuing chapters.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Though this chapter is brief, it is a helpful antiseptic to the views that subjugate humanity to the environment or that offer more good than can be effected through humanitarian efforts.  Though Grudem doesn’t spell it out here, the biblical worldview ultimately points us to a new age, with a new governor, and a new created order.  Only the Kingdom of Christ can satisfy all of our political longings.  Until his second advent, any political improvement is at best incomplete and temporary.  This should not deter us from working for the common good, but it should temper our utopian enthusiasm and/or our apocalyptic despair.

Despite all outward appearances, God is ruling over all the nations.  Whatever the state of the union, the state of the universe is in good hands (Psalm 115:3; 135:6).  God is using good and bad people, events, and governments to accomplish his intended purposes (Gen 50:20; Isa 46:9-11).  While we see brokeness in the world, God sees how all those pieces will be brought together in Christ (Eph 1:10); his blood will ultimately reconcile all things (Col 1:20).

We must remind ourselves of that if we are going to maintain a biblical worldview.  Otherwise, we will be tempted to put all our hopes in the next political election and candidate for change.  Political interest for the Christian is a “both-and’ kind of engagement.  We seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matt 6:33) and we pray, vote, and speak in order to promote peaceful and quiet lives (1 Tim 2:1-4).

Still it must be asked:  Why do we promote such an environment?  Is it for us and for our children?  In part it is, but even more we pray and plead for justice from our governing officials so that the gospel may have freedom to deliver men and women from the dominion of darkness and bring them into the kingdom of the beloved Son (Col. 1:13).  To that we must endeavor relentlessly.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Politics According to the Bible (3): Biblical Principles

[This is the third 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].

Before we can examine specific political questions in light of the teachings of the Bible, it is necessary to study what the entire Bible teaches about civil government.  Where did the idea of government come from? What should be the purpose of government? How should governments be chosen? What kind of government is best? What are the responsibilities of governmental rulers? (77)

This is how Wayne Grudem introduces his third chapter, “Biblical Principles Concerning Government.”  In the pages that follow, Grudem offers a positive view of politics from the Bible.  He begins with three keys texts, he wrestles with the laws of Old Testament Israel applied today; he expounds what the goal of government should be, he makes a biblical case for democracy, and he discusses some of the issues regarding church state.

THREE KEY BIBLICAL TEXTS

Genesis 9:5-6 is the foundational passage in the Bible for the role of government to wield the sword.  It says, “And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man.  From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of a man. ‘Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen 9:5-6).  By extension, Grudem extrapolates, “Once this principle is established, then the imposition of lesser penalties for crimes is also validated” (78).  In time, this ideal would be fleshed out in the law of Moses.  The Lex Talionis established degrees of punishment, but it goes back to this fundamental teaching in Genesis 9.  Because man is made in the image of God, harm done against another human is a criminal act, and is punishable by death, says the Lord.  Thus in establishing a basis for government, Grudem points out that from the very beginning, God was a law-maker, who entrusted men to rule well on the earth–this after all is part of what it means to be made in the image of God (cf. Gen 1:26-28).

From this passage, Grudem lists 3 principles: (1) Anarchy is a highly destructive evil; (2) Governments should execute justice and defend the weak (cf. Ps 82:2-4); and (3) Government should execute swift punishment as a deterrent to crime (cf. Ecc 8:11) (78-79).

Next, Grudem turns to the New Testament, where he examines Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-14.  These read as follows:

Romans 13:1-7
[1] Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. [2] Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. [3] For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, [4] for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. [5] Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. [6] For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. [7] Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

1 Peter 2:13-14
[13] Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, [14] or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.

Spending most of his time on Romans 13, Grudem lists 6 principles:

(1) God has appointed the authorities who have governmental power. (cf. John 19:11)
(2) Civil rulers are a “terror to bad conduct.” (cf. Genesis 9:5-6)
(3) They give “approval” or praise.
(4) Governmental officials serve God.
(5) Government officials are doing “good” as they carry out their work.
(6) Government authorities execute God’s wrath on wrongdoers and thereby carry out a task of retribution.

Grudem is quick to point out that these elements of government do not result in “good” governments, but they do show the way God has instituted governments to function in the world.  Grudem also shows how governmental authority relates to personal ethics.  Reading Romans 13 in context, he notes that three verses prior to this instruction, Paul says, “Beloved, never avenge yourself, but leave it to the wrath of God…” (Rom 12:19).  It is appropriate to see this negative command towards personal vengeance in two ways: (1) God will avenge all injustice at the end of the age (and by means of the cross of Jesus Christ for the sins of believers), but also (2) God institutes kings and elected officials to dispose his wrath in this age.  Grudem articulates,

While Paul tells Christians not to take personal vengeance when wrong has been done to them, he tells them they should rather allow the wrongdoer to be punished by “the wrath of God.” Then just a few sentences later (in Rom. 13:4) he explains that “God’s wrath” against wrongdoers is carried out by civil government when it inflicts punishment on them. This means that it is often right for Christians to turn to the civil government to ask for justice to be done when they have suffered wrong at the hands of others. The civil government, in this life, is the means that God has established to carry out justice in such cases (81).

OLD TESTAMENT LAWS AND MODERN POLITICS

Next, Grudem asks the question: What about the detailed laws for Israel given in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy? (83-85).  In short, he distinguishes the covenantal differences between Old Testament Israel and every other nation that has ever existed. Only Israel was a true theocracy.  Therefore, there are principles to be gleaned from the Torah, but many specifics are impossible to implement without a temple, a Davidic king, an Aaronic priesthood, and an ark of the covenant.  Moreover, he sees in the New Testament a move away from the Old Testament laws when Paul instructs the Galatians and the Colossians that celebrating particular days will not save (cf. Gal 4:10-11; Col. 2:16-17).

THE GOAL OF GOVERNMENT

So what is the goal of government?  Romans 13:4 tells us that rulers are in place as “God’s servant for your good.”  In other words, government exists to promote the good of the people.  Grudem points to the difference between Samuel’s good leadership (1 Sam 12:3-4) and his warning about the greed of the kings of the nations (1 Sam 8:11-17).  According to the Bible, rulers who serve themselves are not fit for the office.  Sadly, this practice is commonplace in our country and in every civilization that has existed since Cain built the first city (cf. Deut 16:19; Ps 26:10; Prov 15:27; 17:23; Isa 33:15; Ezek 22:12; Amos 5:12; Hab 1:2-4).

Instead of personal gain, governments are instituted to defend and promote the liberty of human beings.  Grudem again goes to the Bible to make his case appealing to pattern in Scripture that loss of freedom is always a kind of judgment or curse, while liberation is a blessing.  He then points at passages like Deuteronomy 30:19 and  Joshua 24:15, to argue that God intends that men and women are created and called to make free moral choices (92).  This applies today to the measure of governance a country should have, and makes a case for limited government, based on the principle that the more a government  increases regulations, the more it obstructs the freedoms of the people (94).  He sees this as an increasing problem and gives numerous contemporary examples (94-95).

Therefore, since the goal of government is societal good, citizens (Christian and otherwise) should submit themselves to their ruling leaders (1 Pet 2:13-14), but this command is not absolute.  Pointing to Peter and John (Acts 4:18-20; 5:29), Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3:13-27), and the Hebrew midwives (Exod 1:17, 21), Grudem shows that at times it is appropriate to “obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29).  This is always true when the government commands Christians to do things that go against the Bible and conscience.  And sometimes, this civil disobedience leads to overthrowing governments in power.  To prove his point, Grudem examines the history of America’s birth and gives a compelling case for the “morality” of of lower government officials resisting higher officials for the sake of the greater good (89).  Moreover, “the Bible does not ever say that it is wrong to change an existing government” (90), and in fact it even “gives examples where God raised up leaders to deliver his people from the rule of tyrants” (91).

With that said, it must be cautioned that the biblical deliverances in the Bible are in a totally different category than anything that would take place today.  Liberation theologians will appeal to Moses and the exodus to affirm the radical resistance of the powers that be, but they are applying the commands to Moses in ways that are not consistent with the whole counsel of Scripture.  So while, there may be moral grounds for overthrowing a government based on the ethical teachings of the Bible, it is another thing to say that any “chosen people” have the right to resist governing powers the way that Moses did, because they are some kind of New Moses.  There is only one New Moses, and his name is Jesus, and his church uses spiritual weapons (2 Cor 10:3-6).

CHURCH AND STATE RELATIONS

Grudem gives three straight forward points on how the church and state should relate: (1) “The church should not govern ‘things that are Caesars.'”  Based on the distinction Jesus made in Matthew 22:21 and Jesus refusal to arbitrate between a man and his brother over the distribution of property (Luke 12:13-14), we should see two different spheres of governance in the world–the church and the state.  (2) The civil government should not govern “the things that are God’s” for the same reason as number 1–church and state are two different “systems of government” (100). (3) “Civil government should support and encourage churches and bona-fide religious groups in general” because this promotes the greater good of the society.

Finally, in Grudem’s third chapter he also addresses the idea that powers should be separated and that a democratic system can be inferred from Scripture.  On this first, point he appeals to the wickedness of humanity and the fact that absolute authority is shown throughout the Bible to corrupt (e.g. Saul, David, and Solomon).  Moreover, as Scripture establishes governance in local churches, it does so with plural eldership (cf. Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5; 1 Peter 5:1-4).  This positive example of the ‘separation of powers’ commends itself to national governance.  Along the same lines, even the rulers should be subject to the laws of the nation.  Here Grudem quotes Deuteronomy 17, where kings are called to copy the Mosaic Law in order to rule in accordance with its commandments.

On the second point–democratic government–Grudem says that a number of concepts coalesce to commend a broadly democratic form of government–though it should be noted that he doesn’t affirm this as strongly as the previous points. He insists that while no one system is commanded in Scripture, he urges that a government that has the consent of the people, will do better than any other.  He bases this on the equality of mankind, the need for rulers to be accountable, and the fact Scripture shows many positive examples of kings gaining consent from their people (Exod 4:29-31; 1 Sam 7:7:5-6; 10:24) and negative examples where kings failed to gain their people’s consent (e.g. Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12:15).  The result of Rehoboam’s dictatorial rule resulted in a fractured kingdom.  On this point, Grudem concludes with a fascinating world statistic.  In 1950, 22 democracies existed; today 120 (out of 192) countries hold a democratic process in governance.  What could this mean?  Perhaps, it is another example of the way that God’s wisdom has permeated as salt and light into the world. But then again, that might be too optimistic and even sounds a bit post-millenial.

FINAL THOUGHTS

As it concerns the Bible and democracy, I think that Grudem is working with biblically-informed concepts to be applied in a fallen world, and for the most part they are helpful.  Still it must be remembered that the Bible’s overarching purpose is explicitly theocratic–with a Davidic Son reigning over the nations.  Democratic government is derived from the Bible’s teaching, not explicitly mandated; and cannot be, because the system of government that the whole Bible is driving at is the one that begins when Christ comes to reign in Zion.  The Bible assists in evaluating today’s forms of government, but the only one that it fully commends is the one that has not yet been established.

On the whole, this chapter is packed with biblical perspectives on government and makes a great resource on the subject.  These are important matters that must be weighed with care, and while I might emphasize the kingdom of God and rule of Christ more than Grudem does, I believe he presents a positive, biblical framework to think about the Two Kingdoms.

For a recent sermon on this subject, see Mark Dever, “Pay Your Taxes But Trust in Christ.”

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Politics According to the Bible (2): Significant Christian Influence

[This is the second 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].

In his second chapter, Wayne Grudem advocates “A Better Solution,” what he calls “Significant Christian Influence on Government.”  In his proposal, he surveys the Bible to enumerate a host of biblical examples who were used by God to influence their respective political leaders.  He also points out passages of Scripture that give Christians instruction on how to interact with government and governors, before raising a number of debated questions, not the least of which include, “Is America a Christian Nation?”

After addressing the preliminary matter of how to rightly interpret the Bible in a way that denies liberal distortions, Grudem enlists biblical support for his position.  Moving from the Old Testament to the New, he lists numerous saints who have been used by God to impact government.  Some of these include Daniel, Joseph, Moses, Nehemiah, Esther, and Mordecai.  While each of these saints trusted in God to accomplish his work in the world, they were also steadfast to plead with their respective “government officials.”  Moreover, the prophets in the Old Testament regularly addressed the kings of Israel (e.g. Isaiah and Jeremiah) and the rulers and conduct of foreign nations (e.g. Isa 13-23; Jer 46-51; Ezek 25-32; Amos 1-2; Hab 2; Zeph 2; and Obadiah addressed Edom, while Jonah and Nahum addressed Nineveh).

In the New Testament, John the Baptist (Matt 14:3-4; Luke 3:18-20) and the apostle Paul (Acts 24:24-25) both addressed the conduct of their government officials.  More precisely though, in the New Testament, Paul devotes the first 7 verses in Romans 13 to the God-ordained place of government.  It is helpful to remember the context of this letter was to a people who were oppressed by their government leaders.  Nevertheless, Paul affirms the goodness of government as an institution and calls Christian to submit themselves to these “ministers of God” (Rom 13:6).  Likewise, Peter in his first epistle instructs Christians to submit themselves to the governing authorities (2:13-14).  In these inspired letters, God has given Christians guidelines for interacting and influencing government.

Grudem then applies these teachings to the democratic process in America.  While waiting to develop his thoughts further until chapter 3 and following, he does mention the fact that Christians in America share in the governance of the nation through the system of representation.  He writes,

To be able to vote is to have a share in the ruling power.  Therefore all citizens who are old enough to vote have a responsibility before God to know what God expects of civil government and what kind of moral and legal standards he wants government to follow.  But how can citizens learn what kind of government God is seeking? They can learn this only if churches teach about government and politics from the Bible (62).

Grudem also raises the issue of whether or not America is a “Christian Nation.”  He does well to define precisely what that means, and gives a balanced answer of yes and no.  His overall conclusion is the question is not all that helpful, because it “leads to arguments, misunderstanding, and confusion” (65).  His point is well taken, and he helpfully shows that America has always been a nation “significantly influence by Christianity” and still should be as the biblical data teaches.

He tackles a number of other questions that concern the way the church and its members should exercise their citizenship to influence the government.  He makes the point that different persons will have different roles and involvement in government, just like different Christians have different gifts and roles in the church.  Nevertheless, he urges that all Christians play a role in influencing government for justice and good.

One final note, he raises the issue of whether or not Christians should vote for non-Christians.  His discussion is helpful and perhaps challenging to many believers who always vote Christian.  He includes an article that he wrote in the fall of 2007, in preparation for the 2008 presidential election.  His letter can be found on http://www.townhall.com and he argued for why Christians should vote for Mitt Romney, a mormon.  His argument is sound and it shows the difference between the biblical qualifications for elected office and the biblical qualifications for pastors–they are not the same.

Going back to the Bible again, Grudem expounds,

[H]ave we come to the point where evangelicals will only vote for people they consider Christians? I hope not, for nothing in the Bible says that people have to be born again Christians before they can be governmental authorities who are used greatly by God to advance his purposes. God used Pharaoh, King of Egypt to raise Joseph to a position of authority over the whole country, so he could save his people from famine (Genesis 41:37-57). God used Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, to protect and raise up Daniel and his Jewish friends to positions of high authority over Babylon (Daniel 2:46-49). God used Cyrus, King of Persia, to restore the Jewish exiles to their homeland (Isaiah 45:16; Ezra 1:1-4), and used Darius, King of Persia, to protect the Jewish people as they rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 6:1-12). God used Ahasuerus, King of Persia, to raise up Esther as Queen and to give Mordecai high authority and honor in his kingdom (Esther 6:10-11; 8:1-2, 7-15). In the New Testament age, God used the peace enforced by the secular Roman Empire, the Pax Romana, to enable the early Christians to travel freely and spread the Gospel throughout the Mediterranean world.

Here in the United States, God used not only Founding Fathers who were strong Christians, but also Deists such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, to build the foundation of our nation. Jefferson even became our third President in 1801, a demonstration of the wisdom of Article 6 of the Constitution, which says, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” (page 68)

Grudem’s point challenges the way many Christian’s think about politics and voting.  The point worth noting is that it requires more than simply answering the question, “Are they Christian or not?” to make an informed decision around election time.  It takes time to consider the issues biblically and to be well-informed with the candidates who are running to know whether or not they are qualified for the office of elected official.  It may mean that a conservative but unbelieving candidate with a proven track record of defending life and upholding justice is more qualified than an inexperienced evangelical.  That is to say, there seems to be a biblical distinction between who we have leading our country and who we have joining our church.  The two are not always synonymous, and this view is surely one that raises questions.  So, let the discussions begin.

Overall, Grudem’s chapter is a helpful in two ways.  (1) It shows us from the Bible the way God’s people have always sought to influence governmental officials for the good; and (2) it challenges Christians to think more precisely on the matters faith and politics.  Furthermore, it challenges uninvolved Christians (and pastors) to be more involved in influencing the government for good–something that is greatly needed in our day.

May God continue to help us think biblically about politics, government, and the world in which we live.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Politics According to the Bible (1): Five Wrong Views

[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