What isn’t a Christian View of Politics?

Posted on August 22, 2011 at 11:21 am,

Following on from my review of Wayne Grudem’s Politics According to the Bible, I’m going to be spending the next few months critiquing his arguments about what a Christian approach to politics should be. Today, I’m looking at the first chapter, which explores the question of how Christianity should relate to government. It should be noted that, in this chapter, the terms government and politics are used pretty much interchangeably.

In this chapter, Grudem critiques five wrong views about this question, he’ll go on to outline what he believes to be the correct view in chapter two (which we’ll look at on Wednesday). The five wrong views are:

* Government should compel religion
* Government should exclude religion
* All government is evil and demonic
* Do evangelism, not politics
* Do politics, not evangelism

Lets look at each of these views in turn:

Government should compel religion

Grudem starts by pointing out that this is a view that is not held by any significant Christian group today, and points out that it is clearly ruled out by Jesus in Matthew 22:20-21, alongside several other passages. He also draws out the principle that Christian faith cannot be forced upon somebody.

Grudem then draws out some implications from this – the biggest being that Christians should be staunchly in favour of freedom of religion. The other main implication is that there is no Biblical warrant for having an established church with formal and financial links to the state, and that he believes that it does more harm to the church in question than good, although he sees no problem with religious organisations having exemptions from taxes, as long as such things are open to all religions.

Government should exclude religion

This view is that religion should be completely excluded from government functions and property, and from all political or governmental decision-making processes. Grudem attributes this view to a number of secular organisations in the US (the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State). Whilst I don’t know whether this is an accurate representation of their views, I have certainly come across atheists who think along these lines.

Grudem’s arguments against such a view begin with those from general principles. He points out that such a system would not be democratic and would violate the principles of both freedom of religion and freedom of speech. He then brings in a number of Biblical examples that show Jews or Christians having an influence over a variety of pagan rulers, before concluding that such a viewpoint is clearly at odds with a genuinely Christian worldview.

All Government is evil and demonic

Grudem goes into some depth on this one, quoting Greg Boyd’s book The Myth of a Christian Nation, which, in Grudem’s analysis (I haven’t read the book, so can’t comment on whether this is an accurate representation), hinges on a misinterpretation of Luke 4:6 to say that all government is ultimately in the hands of the Devil. Grudem also points out that Boyd’s argument ignores numerous Bible passages that place God, rather than the Devil, as the one ultimately in charge of human history and the many Bible passages that speak positively of government. He also goes off on a tangent in critiquing Boyd’s particular version of pacifism – an argument which would have been better placed in the chapter dealing with national defence (and I’ll critique Grudem’s arguments on the issue when I get there).

Do evangelism, not politics

This view says that the only way Christians can change society for the better is to preach the gospel message and so change peoples’ hearts. Grudem’s response is to say that the gospel message, if preached fully, includes both transformation of society and doing good for others. He also points out that the Bible portrays both evangelism and politics as means to restrain evil (citing 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Romans 13:1-3), before pointing out a number of examples of Christianity having a positive influence on governments, from outlawing cruel practises in the Roman Empire through to the Civil Rights Movement.

Grudem then briefly deals with two arguments used in favour of this approach. The first is based on the idea that there’s no point given that some Bible passages predict persecution of Christianity in the end times. Grudem’s response is simple: if previous generations of Christians had taken that approach, the good things he’s listed wouldn’t have happened. The second is that politics is a distraction from the main task of preaching the gospel. Grudem, however, points out that Christians are called to different ministries (citing 1 Corinthians 12). And also that Christian involvement in politics will be done primarily by those Christians whom God has called to a political ministry, in the same way as some Christians might be called particularly to social action, childrens’ ministry, or working the church’s sound system.

Do politics, not evangelism

This was the view of the Social Gospel movement of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Grudem claims that such a view is a straw man when applied to Christian groups today, although all the groups he cites are Evangelical ones. I expect that there are plenty in the liberal wing of Christianity (which, by and large, doesn’t do evangelism) who hold to this kind of view, at least in practice. Grudem then says that changing a society to one that is in harmony with a Christian worldview requires both evangelism and political action, as well as Christians teaching the whole Bible and thinking through the implications of Christianity.

Reading through that, there’s very little that I would consider controversial (the pacifism bit is the only one), but it all needs to be established before we can meaningfully discuss what a Christian/Biblical approach to politics looks like.

4 Comments

  1. Posted August 22, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Here’s a video of Grudem saying the same things:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQKSU8JWFkc

  2. Posted August 23, 2011 at 12:09 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure about this point about government excluding religion. In a secular democracy, religious views still have a role to play, because there are still religious people. There would still be plenty of opportunity for religious people to influence public policy from within the government and from without… the same opportunity that all people have in a democracy. Is that not sufficient?

  3. Posted August 23, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Anthony, thanks for highlighting that video. Obviously in the book, Grudem goes into more depth than that.

    Drew, I have come across a small number of secularist atheists who do appear to want religion completely excluded from public discourse. There’s at least one on a forum we both post on. These five views are basically unhelpful extremes that should be avoided when it comes to looking at the relationship between faith communities (of any stripe) and the political process. But there are also real people out there who buy into each of them.

  4. Posted August 23, 2011 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    In that case, Stephen, and for whatever little it may be worth, I agree. Excluding religion entirely like that would be extreme and highly anti-democratic.

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