Monday, November 15, 2010

More on Politics According to the Bible

Well, Brett convinced me to get another entry up here by requesting it on my facebook wall. As it turns out I've been thinking/talking more about Grudem's book Politics According to the Bible since my last post. Alot of this got worked out on a comment thread over at TGC reviews, but I'll repost my thoughts here in a more formulated, drawn out manner (sounds exciting, right?).

As I said before, in general I've really enjoyed the book. It's contained great biblical insight and the chapters on specific issues have been very helpful introductions to the issues facing our nation today from a Christian perspective. That said, he didn't answer my questions (the nerve!). On the one hand, who am I to think Wayne Grudem should set aside time to answer my questions? For alot of people, the book will probably do a fine job of presenting a Biblical view of government. Insofar as that's true, I applaud the book and I can't say I'm mad at him or something because he didn't answer my questions. Nonetheless, in my mind these questions are substantive and worthy of attention:

1. Where is the NT imperative for Christians to change government? I talked about this alot in my earlier post on Politics, so I won't rehash it all here. In his book Grudem gives 2 NT narrative examples of Christian engagement in politics that I found to be exegetically weak. In fact, NT imperative with respect to politics seems to be entirely about Christians submitting to government, not trying to change it.

2. In Grudem's criticism of the "do evangelism, not politics" view in chapter 1, he accuses them of having too narrow an understanding of "the gospel" (p. 45-47). Basically he says the gospel doesn't just apply to individual salvation, but also includes a transformation of society (his words). The "what is the gospel?" conversation is a hot one these days (I'm thinking of Carson's essay in For the Fame of God's Name and Greg Gilbert's What is the Gospel?) but it seems to me at least (for what that's worth) that the growing evangelical consensus is that the gospel broadly conceived (as sometimes it is in scripture) includes a cosmic redemption, not just the redemption of individual lives. I completely agree with that, but it doesn't answer the question of what role we play in that redemption. Why is it that because the good news includes a cosmic redemption (i.e. transformation of society) that the acitivity of people in this age is the means through which that redemption happens? I think many Christians would agree that the good news includes a cosmic redemption, but would still see a progressive decline in this age until Jesus returns and establishes the transformed society unilateraly (for a brief statement of this view see this blog post, especially point #9). I'm not saying that's necessarily right, but is it not worthy of at least some response from Grudem (I mean come on, Mark Dever's no fool)?

3. As I think about this point more that I made over at the TGC comment thread, it makes sense to me that if the church's role is to preach the Word, and God's Word contains His moral will for governments, and we are all involved in government in the U.S., then pastors should teach us how to submit to God's moral will as we all participate in the political process. So I wouldn't state my objection as strongly as I originally did. I do wish he'd be more clear in the book as to what things apply to the U.S. and what things apply to government as a whole. It seems like in the first 4 chapters of his book his goal is to discuss God's will for all governments, not just the U.S. government, yet some of it only makes sense to me if we're all part of the government. If it's God's will for all Christians to be involved in changing government, not just those in a democracy, then we'd expect to find that somewhere in scripture (see question #1 above).

4. His main passages in support of alot of his view of government are Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:14-15, which both describe government as punishing evil and rewarding good. But those passages seem to do just that, describe. They simply say "this is how it is; submit." They don't say "this is how it should be, and if it's not you better try to change it." Grudem takes these descriptive passages to be God's moral will for all governments, and then concludes that we should be actively making sure that governments conform to that. Maybe that's the case, but he doesn't actually argue that it is. He appears to take it for granted.

5. If the role of government is to punish evil and reward good (as he says it is), then why shouldn't governments punish idolatry? Isn't that evil? Or are we now appealing to some other standard (natural law?) than the Bible for our definition of good and evil? Grudem seems to be against that approach throughout the book since he consistently appeals to the Bible on moral issues. So if the Bible is our standard for good and evil, and the Bible says idolatry is evil, why shouldn't governments punish idolatry? I know he doesn't think they should (he says he's not a theonomist, and he argues for a distinction between church and state due to Jesus' "render unto ceasar" sentiment). But I fail to see how his position doesn't logically lead to government punishing idolatry, which is equivalent to "government compelling religion," one of his wrong views of chapter 1! Grudem again doesn't even address this question.

As I said before, I don't think Wayne Grudem should in any way feel like he needs to answer my questions. However, at least questions 1, 2, and 5 are questions anyone who's thought about the 2 kingdoms/Kuyperian debate wonders. For Grudem not even to address them in his 4 chapters that are supposed to set forth God's will for government is a major oversight in my mind.

Well, it's been fun posting again. I hope to follow up this post with some of the positives I've taken from Grudem and the resulting thinking/dialogue on Christians and politics. I highly recommend reading his book, especially the first four chapters. I'd definitely say anyone reading Trueman's new book or the Gerson/Wehner book needs to read Grudem's first 4 chapters since what I'm hearing about those book is that they don't give any detailed theological description of God's will for government. And come on, if you're reading this and thinking about politics as a Christian, drop me a comment!

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