If you catch my sidebar on the books I'm reading you may have noticed that I've recently been going through Wayne Grudem's newest book entitled Politics According to the Bible. I've finished the first 4 chapters. These all fall under the first part of the book, which is entitled "basic principles." This is the part of the book I was most excited to read. I've been frustrated in the past when I hear other Christians debating individual political issues. The reason that can be hard for me is because I find myself unsure of how to even approach politics. How involved should we as Christians be? Should we legislate morality or leave freedom? Should we feed the poor via government or leave that to the people? Should we care for the environment via government sanctions or the will of the people?
Christians fall down on either side of these issues, especially younger Christians who are fed up with the politicizing tendencies of the Christian right. However I think myself and most of my peers also forget the politicizing tendencies of the Christian left (generally seen in the more liberal, mainline churches). The difficulty for me in sorting through these arguments is that I feel I don't know how to even approach them. What constitutes a "correct" view on a given issue? What does God want politics to look like? So, I got Grudem's book and was excited to read it. Here are some initial reactions 4 chapters in:
1. Grudem is an excellent communicator of biblical truth. He writes with such clarity and in general his reasoning flows clearly from the scriptures. He calls error error and truth truth. I really appreciate this about him.
2. In his second chapter Grudem puts forth the idea of "significant Christian influence on government." This is in his view the Biblical position. In support of this he offers a number of OT texts where governments in general, not just Israel, are condemned for their failure to obey God's law in their governance. From this we see God has a moral will for government. He then cites two stories in the NT where Christians confront rulers about their sin. John the Baptist confronts Herod (Matt. 14, Luke 3) and Paul confronts Felix (Acts 24).
The interesting thing to me about these NT texts is the text itself doesn't specify what John the Baptist and Paul confront their counterparts about. It says they call them to repentence, but it doesn't say that has anything to do with their political positions. In fact, in the case of John the Baptist he confronts Herod about his personal sexual immorality. Grudem simply assumes that political advice or calls to repentence in their policies were also there. Thus he finds NT precedent for believers engaging in policy issues. I find this suspect at best. We have no evidence that this is what John the Baptist and Paul were doing, yet these are the only examples Grudem gives of NT people "engaging in politics."
I don't think any evangelical denies that God as a moral will for governments. The question is what we as Christians are to do about it. Should we simply evangelize and disciple everyone, including politicians, such that as they are progressively sanctified by the Spirit they grow in holiness that then overflows to their vocation? Grudem says no, this is not enough. He calls this the wrong view of "do evangelism, not politics." But this seems to be all we know the NT church to be doing. Where is the imperative for the church to be engaged in politics? It seems what we see more of the NT church actually doing and being commanded to do is to submit to the government and to reach the people in it with the gospel, not try to fix the system itself. All he has to counter this are 2 suspect examples.
I'm still not totally convinced one way or the other, but it's the kind of question I wish Grudem had addressed more thoroughly. He speaks of the gospel as God's "good news for all areas of life." I'm fine with that, but it leaves so much unanswered. If the gospel includes the redemption of governments, does that automatically mean it's a redemption we bring about progressively? Is this a post-millenial view where we bring about the millenium by redeeming all areas of life? (But then again Grudem is pre-mil). These theological underpinnings of our view of governments were exactly the thing I was hoping Grudem would have addressed more adequately.
3. This ended up being longer than I thought. More to come.