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.
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 (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