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

Politics and the Bible

Wayne Grudem has come out with a massive volume on politics and the Bible (619 pages).  It is entitled Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture, and it contains biblical exegesis, theological reflection, and ethical discussion about ‘everything’ that one may encounter in the world of politics.

It is a great resource for someone who likes to read but has done little reading in the area of politics–someone like me!  Moreover, it is a tremendous guide for Christians to think through the matter of politics–a subject many Christians discuss with regularity and passion–with the light and wisdom of the Bible, and not simply conservative or progressive rhetoric.

Thus in an attempt to learn more about “politics according to the Bible,” I am going to endeavor to read a chapter a day between now and election day (Nov 2) to better understand a biblical view of politics and to discern how and where a pastor should be involved in the process (see Grudem pp. 71-73).  And as a measure of discipline, or self-inflicted perspiration, I am aiming to catalogue my thoughts from each chapter as I go, giving a synopsis of each chapter and the helpful biblical analyses provided by Professor Grudem.

I hope this may help others think through political matters biblically (especially those in my own church) and that others may be encouraged to pick up and read, or reference, Grudem’s new book.  At this point, I cannot commend or condemn Politics According to the Bible, I can only suggest it as an important subject (especially at this time) and Grudem as a reliable teacher–he is a conservative, Bible-believing, advocate of sound doctrine (see his Systematic Theology).  I anticipate it being a helpful book, and one that certainly has the right foundation on which to build–the word of God.

I hope you will join me in thinking through these matters biblically, so that we would better understand what the whole counsel of God says concerning the political enterprise.  And maybe, if you are so inclined, you will pick up Grudem’s volume and read along– right now it is 40% off at the WTSBookstore.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

7 Things Not To Sip At The Tea Party: Doug Wilson’s Sound Advice

Doug Wilson gives sound advice for evangelicals as election day nears and political fervor increases in his article “Seven Things for Christians to Not Sip at the Tea Party.”  It is pithy and practical and worth reading in full.  Here is the outline.

1. Keep your head…
2. Conservative forms of postmodern relativism are no better than the others kinds…
3. Do not make the mistake of thinking that anything that makes the socialists, liberals, progressives, and commies froth at the mouth must be biblical. What they are advancing is evil, sure enough, but that doesn’t mean that anyone who fights them must be good…
4. Always act, and never react. Action needs to proceed from a biblically based framework of political principles, and not from fauxoutrage over the fact that your gored ox is not covered by Medicaid.
5. Don’t support any political movement in such a way that eliminates your ability to protest the inevitable compromises that will follow in the train of electoral victory, such compromises being undertaken and advanced by Republicans ten minutes after the election.
6. Take note of the fact that pastors, theologians and writers alive today, who actually embody the principles held by the Founders, will usually not be allowed anywhere near the microphones, at least not while the television crews are still there…
7. Above all, beware the idolatry of a Christless civil religion…We are Christians and the worship of a generic Deity is prohibited to us. There is no way to the Father except through the name of Jesus. But there are manifestations of the American civil religion that are seductive to evangelicals. And so we must be told, again and again, little children, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21).

Wilson’s counsel is helpful.  Like Moore’s article, it encourages evangelical engagement, but engagement that proceeds from a mind renewed by the whole counsel of God and one that is jealous to guard itself from the idol of civil religion.  As we protest for liberty, may we never forget our greatest liberty comes from Jesus Christ alone (John 8:32; Galatians 5:1).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

God, The Gospel, and Glenn Beck: Russell Moore Weighs In

Whatever your thoughts about Glenn Beck’s rally in Washington, Russell Moore’s analysis, God, the Gospel, and Glenn Beck, is worth reading.  Especially, if your Christianity and political interests intersect (which they should — the question is “How should they intersect?”), Moore’s commentary is salient reminder that the advance of the gospel and the advance of conservative politics are not one and the same.  While promoting an active role in politics, Moore distinguishes between populist “God and country” rhetoric and the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified, buried, and dead.

On the topic, Moore writes,

We used to sing that old gospel song, “I will cling to an old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.”  The scandalous scene at the Lincoln Memorial indicates that many of us want to exchange it in too soon. To Jesus, Satan offered power and glory. To us, all he needs offer is celebrity and attention.

Mormonism and Mammonism are contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. They offer another Lord Jesus than the One offered in the Scriptures and Christian tradition, and another way to approach him. An embrace of these tragic new vehicles for the old Gnostic heresy is unloving to our Mormon friends and secularist neighbors, and to the rest of the watching world. Any “revival” that is possible without the Lord Jesus Christ is a “revival” of a different kind of spirit than the Spirit of Christ (1 Jn. 4:1-3).

Because the gospel is about a kingdom, the gospel is political.  And politics do matter.  Paul urges us to pray for leaders and the peace of our nations, but because the gospel is empowered by a heavenly Spirit and is establishing a subversive kingdom, it is not advanced through national organizations and political machinations. The church is the wisdom of God for growing his kingdom and for bringing genuine peace into the world.

While Christians should engage politics, and take a stand as individual (and organized) citizens, we must not confuse the call of disciple-making (Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8) with that of conservative politics.  Moore’s article shows evangelical Christians should confront the world with a nuanced understanding of the Bible, and not just slogans passed down by winsome leaders.  We must renew our minds and examine our hearts, even as we vote our conscience.

Check out the whole thing: God, the Gospel, and Glenn Beck

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Hollywood and the Holy Word: Substance, Supplication, and the President-Elect

What if Barack Obama were white?  Would he have been elected by such a large margin?  I’m uncertain.  It’s interesting that this election was decided as much, if not more, by the color of Obama’s skin than the content of his character.  From the polling data broadcast tonight, it seems many voted for Barack Obama for the sole reason that it is time to elect an African-American president. I don’t disagree. I rejoice in that our country has a black president. But if that is only qualifier for office, it mutes the political, ideological, moral, and even theological issues at stake.

(Interestingly, if people voted only on the superficiality of skin color, it is the converse of MLK Jr’s famous speech, which advocated human appraisal based on the content of our character and not the color of our skin.  With that said, let me say Obama’s election is a milestone inconceivable 100 years ago and unforeseen even within recent decades.  Thus, today’s election stands as a victory for civil rights. For that we give God praise).

Nevertheless, in opposition to those who laud Obama with Messianic ascriptions, I am concerned about the substance of his character and what he stands for in his personal morality and in his political agenda(s).  He is smooth talker, an ear tickler, and a heart warmer, but is he a man of righteous character, integrity, and political justice?  Time will tell.  Every tree bears fruit.

But time has already begun to tell, and much observable fruit has already fallen.  So that in electing Obama as the 44th president, the American people have willfully elected the most pro-abortion, pro-homosexual (and thus anti-family) president in the history of the United States.  Barack’s unwillingness to defend the unborn and his positive affirmation of homosexuality do not just invite the Lord’s wrath they extend it (cf. Rom. 1).  The judgment of God has already been at work in our nation, as more than 40 million children’s lives have been snuffed out since 1973; likewise, the increase in homosexuality is a demarcation of a people that has lost its moral compass and has embraced a pernicious kind of lifestyle.  Abortion and sodomy do not only solicit solicit, they are in themselves part of God’s judgment.  Consequently, unless Obama’s stance on these issues changes radically, I fear that his rule will only further a culture of death and sacrifice decency and life on the altar of autonomous liberty and freedom of expression.  This is not true freedom (cf. John 8:31-32; Gal. 5:1).

His culpability is not isolated, however.  Since the American people hold in our collective grip the sword of government to defend the innocent and to promote justice, we as a nation will give an account to God for our disregard of His standards of justice and law, written on the hearts of men (cf. Rom 2:14-15).  Therefore, America as a whole, is responsible for the election of public officials who use the God-ordained sword of he state to shed the blood of those they are responsible to protect (cf. Rom. 13:1ff).  Sadly, based on previous statements and voting records, our president-elect will move ahead to deny life to the unborn and will promote legislation to obscure God’s design for marriage–hence implicitly distorting the gospel of Jesus Christ (cf. Ephesians 5:32).

As I reflect on the events of today, I am more convinced than ever that the American people are deceived by what they see and by what is put before their eyes (cf. 2 cor. 4:4).  The polls today reflected what I would call the “Hollywood Effect.”  Because Barack Obama looked presidential, the American people type-cast him for the role.  In this, the voters acted less like a responsible republic and more like a studio casting agency.  Obama’s speech, his demeanor, his poise, and his looks won him the part.  Compared to the track-record of John McCain, Barack’s political history lacks substance, but his crowd-pleasing performances captured his critics glances and overcame his diminutive experience.  In a world of special effects, scripted speeches, cyberspace, flash photography, and sound bites, our next President is a Hollywood star.

So, substance? Doubtful. Time will tell.  But, screenplay?  Absolutely.  The audience at home has voted.

While I am concerned with the next President of the United States, I will pray for him.  1 Timothy 2:1-4 tells me that God wants me to pray for rulers, that they might come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.  I have been convicted by this.  My own lack of prayer for political legislation and political leaders has become increasingly evident as election day arrived.  I have, myself, too often lacked substance in my life–looking spiritual but failing to lift holy hands and prayer.  Yet, in response to recent events, that must change.  I do not want to be a Hollywood Christian, one who could be typecast for the part; I want to be a genuine believer shaped by the Holy Word.

As we close this day and begin a new season in the life of our country, may Christians redouble their prayers for the new president.  May we pray for his salvation and that God would change his mind about abortion, marriage, and other issues of justice.  May we cry to the Lord for mercy, because Americans as a nation are the ones who turns the sword on its own children, who glories in the shame of same-sex unions, and rejoices in both as autonomous freedoms and cultural rites of passage.  May we, the people of God, cry to God for mercy so long as these Christ-rejecting evils persist, and may we pray that our next President not add to the horror but wield the sword well.

Sola Deo Gloria, ds

Palin, Posts, and Prayer

I don’t write much about politics, and for good reason. I am a political novice and a legislative skeptic, but since my google reader has been overflowing with recent ‘Palin’ posts,  I feel compelled to offer the obligatory political post.  So instead of talking better than I know about politics, I will simply link to a handful of reflective Christians who have offered insightful and sometimes irascible comments.

The importance of this issue to gender complementarity, women’s roles, and the local church is where I am most concerned, and it is interesting that concurrent minds have diverged over this issue.  Voddie Baucham and Doug Wilson see this as a deadly plague for the family.  Albert Mohler sees this as a unique opportunity to differentiate the church from the government office.  Denny Burk follows the President’s lead. David Kotter, and the folks at CBMW, seem to want to use this opportunity to clarify the biblical nuances of gender complimentarity. And Tim Challies offers a cumulative survery of these and other considerations.

All of this discussion is healthy and good. Yet, I wonder in the richness of the conversation how much, if any, prayer has been lifted for this VP candidate and her family. Personally, I have been convicted about my lack of intercession. As I wrestle to understand the impact this governmental decision has on gender roles and the local church, in addition to its effect on Sarah Palin’s own family, I have not prayed for her as a godly, complementarian man ought. Ironically, as gender issues arise in the wake of these events, one thing is clear from the passage that has caused so much debate–i.e. 1 Timothy 2–that godly men are to raise holy hands to the Lord in prayer. They are not to quarrel in anger, but rather are to labor in prayer for the good of the their family, their church, the gospel, and their country. Discussion is good but prayer is better. May we as we read, write, question, and speak about these recent events, lift holy hands to heaven and pray for Sarah Palin and for our government, so that the gospel of Jesus Christ might have free reign in our families, our churches, and our country.

Here is a list of recent posts:

Reforming Marriage author, Doug Wilson has four thought-provoking posts: Kind of Spooky When You Think About It , Palin Comparison , An Epistemological Pileup, John Slays His Thousands.

Voddie Baucham separates Pro-Life and Pro-Family and makes some provocative, but polarizing, comments about Sarah Palin’s VP selection in his post, “Did McCain Make a Pro-Family Pick?”

Offering a more balanced commentary, Dr. Al Mohler blogs on his website, and on the Washington Post’s eclectic “On Faith” website

Denny Burk follows Dr. Mohler’s lead and presents a balanced response to the issues his post: Southern Baptist Hypocrisy?

Also navigating the challenging terrain of complementarity, CBMW Director, David Kotter offers a two-part series, “Does Sarah Palin Present a Dilemma for Complementarians?” Part 1. Part 2. From speaking with him the other day, it sounds like more reflections on the biblical and cultural issues are forthcoming. Stay tuned.

Finally Tim Challies summarizes a long list comments in the blogosphere with his lengthy rundown.  You can read it all here.

May we who love the wisdom of gender complementarity pray for Sarah Palin, for our country, and for our churches as we continue to think biblically on this matter!