Author Archives: dcinnes

The Christian in the City of Man

David T. Koyzis (Ph.D. University of Notre Dame), an EPSA member, is professor of political science at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario.  He is the author of Political Visions and Illusions (InterVarsity Press, 2003). This article originally appeared in Comment, the opinion journal of Cardus.

City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era
by Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner (Moody, 2010)

Addressing primarily American Christians, the authors, who served in George W. Bush’s administration, argue that evangelicals ought to participate in the political life of their country, not just as citizens but as believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Throughout this book, Gerson and Wehner take issue with the religious right, which they believe has pursued a skewed agenda insufficiently attentive to the needs of the poor and which they believe has been needlessly confrontational when greater civility would have borne more fruit. As an alternative, the authors urge a more thoughtful approach, taking seriously the need for government to pursue order, justice, virtue, and prosperity. It is worth noting that this book was published by Chicago’s Moody Publishers, which until now has not generally been known for producing books on religion and politics.

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Is There Political Wisdom in the Bible?

Carl Trueman, a professor of historical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, has written a book on politics: Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative (P&R, 2010). This is one in a string of Christian books on politics that have come not from political scientists but from theologians (Grudem, VanDrunen, O’Donovan, Hendricks, Gutenson).

Trueman is one of the deservedly leading Reformed theologians of our day. That, together with his British perspective on our political life, brings this particular book to our attention. You can find my assessment of it at Worldmag.com in “Republocrats and Political Wisdom.”

My point of departure with Trueman is here:

Of course Trueman is happy with our democratic and capitalist system because it seems to work better than all the others. But he sees no underlying principles that should unite all Christians behind it in an act of faith. “The bottom line,” he writes, “seems to be that politics as a whole is an art, not a science, and that individual political philosophies are generally eclectic.”

I have praise (he’s against what I’m against: individualism, consumerism, unconscious secularism) and critique (he misses the significance of political philosophy for Christian political thought).

The Kingdom Perspective on Politics

I was speaking with a neighbor who I was meeting for the first time but whom I knew was a Christian. At one point in the conversation he confided that he thought the Lord’s return was near because of how godless and immoral the world was becoming. Seeing someone in need of  correction and encouragement, I first warned him against judging the state of the world by how things look in America. There are other parts of the world, like China and Africa, where people are pressing and crowding into the Kingdom of God. Then I asked him if he had ever considered that maybe we are still in the early church.

He was visibly startled by this suggestion. It was as though I had stolen his hope. But I was calling him to a broader Christian perspective on current events–globally and historically. This is the theme of my Worldmag column this week, “American Decline is Not the End.”

In his new book, On China, Henry Kissinger suggest that in our dealings with China it is well to remember that they see the world and history differently. They are an ancient civilization, and so they take a broader perspective on history, and are more patient in seeking their their policy goals. (Their one child policy didn’t seem to be particularly far sighted, and Mao’s Cultural Revolution seemed to pursue utopia in an awful hurry, but we’ll set that aside.) America, by contrast, is a young civilization used to a fast paced world. (Alexis de Tocqueville has a lot to add about the short-sightedness and impatience of democratic peoples.) Mao’s premier, Zhou Enlai, was once asked what he thought was the significance of the French Revolution (1789). He responded, “It’s too soon to tell.” That tells you a lot about the Chinese perspective.

It is difficult for Americans to appreciate that way of looking at the world. It is surely asking too much of Americans to adopt if for themselves. Christians, even Christian Americans, are another matter.

The Christian’s perspective on current events should be more like that of the Chinese. Though American history is short and has a record of fairly steady advance, a Christian’s citizenship is fundamentally in the Kingdom of God which, like China, is thousands of years old, filled with rise and decline and developments that span centuries.

When we observe the immorality, social disintegration, and national decline in our day, we are tempted to think, “The end is near!” But for a Christian, until the Lord returns, every end is the beginning of a new chapter for the Kingdom that will never end. Every setback is a repositioning for Kingdom advance. “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The persecution of Christians in Jerusalem and the subsequent fall of that holy city was a Diaspora of faith to the world. Barbarian invasion, whether by Gauls or Vikings, has meant barbarian conversion. “Plunder me, but carry away my faith,” is a Kingdom response to invasion, albeit through tears and bathed in blood.

For the few years, my pastor has been encouraging us to think of the consequences of our kingdom labors in terms of their effects on our great-great-great grandchildren and beyond. Many of the blessings we enjoy today, whether church buildings, Christian colleges, or classics of Christian literature have come down to us because of the faithful labors of those who preceded us by many generations. Perhaps you came to faith in part because an ancestor in Christ prayed for you in Puritan New England, in Hugenot France, or in your great grandfather’s prayer closet. The Kingdom perspective, being broadly Kingdom-oriented and grace-dependent, is patient and far-seeing.

David C. Innes is associate professor of politics at The King’s College in New York City, and co-author of the forthcoming Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media).

Faith as a Political Foundation

In his marvelous book-length exposition of 1 & 2 Samuel, A Son To Me (Canon Press, 2003), Peter Leithart makes this intriguing suggestion: “Justification by faith was the foundation of David’s politics” (p.305).

The context leading up to that statement are these remarks on II Samuel 22:

David’s enemies bring a “case” against him, and David appeals to Yahweh, the Judge of heaven and earth, to decide in his favor. David’s deliverance from his enemies is his justification, concrete evidence of the Lord’s verdict in favor of His king, His declaration of righteousness. As we have seen throughout this book, this was the bedrock of David’s treatment of Saul and other enemies; knowing thyat Yahweh will vindicate the righteous, Davcid could rest and wait on the Lord. Justification by faith was the foundation of David’s politics.

I’m not entirely sure what Leithart has in mind with that, i.e., how it applies to how anyone who is justified in Christ by faith should act politically, but it is surely a thought worth pursuing.

David C. Innes is associate professor of politics at The King’s College in New York City, and co-author of the forthcoming Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media).

A 21st Century Protestant Political Vision

Angels in the Architecture, by Jones and Wilson, and Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism are both books that attempt to provide a theologically based (that is to say, Christian) account of all of life. Both books recognize the crisis of our times and offer a way up and out. That crisis is not the budget crisis in Washington nor is it the looming threat of legalized homosexual “marriage,” though these are related to it. It is the crisis of modernity, the unraveling of the modern project in the last 150 years or so. It is the crisis of nihilism and of our lost humanity. (We’re sure it’s here somewhere, but we no longer know where to look.)  These books were written exactly 100 years apart, but the older one provides a better understanding of the crisis and its resolution.

Angels in the Architecture

The problem with Angels in the Architecture (Canon Press, 1998) is that it is not a book. It is the introduction to a book that someone who actually knows something really ought to write. After an exciting introduction that promises much, Douglas Jones and Douglas Wilson show in all the subsequent chapters that they are far from up to the task of completing what they started.

They begin by laying out the alternatives for the future as “modernity or medievalism,” an admittedly paradoxical suggestion. Their thesis is essentially that Medieval Europe was developing a full-orbed, thoroughly Christian understanding of all of life. “The medieval period is the closest thing we have to a maturing Christian culture” (p.17). That is what made it “Christendom.” 

But the Reformation cut short its full development. It was “a crucial outgrowth of medievalism.” The Reformers could not carry on that application of Christian principles to every corner of life as they were distracted with survival on the one hand, and developing those theological principles themselves. “It was a time to focus on truth amidst a slaughterhouse—abnormal—but it would be a great mistake to try to make emergencies the model of a culture….”

Jones and Wilson claim to pick up this great historical task of sketching out and initiating what they call “Medieval Protestantism.” The vision of what they call “middle earth” was silenced historically “by tyrannical Rome and a blinding Enlightenment” (p.17).  Thus, in their book their aim is “to sketch a vision of a whole life and a whole culture” (p.15). No small ambition. But I read on.

They are strong on diagnosis, but short on remedy.

  • “Modernity’s empire has dominated the world for only three centuries, even though the soul of the modern vision is that of the meat cleaver’s counter: stainless steel—cold and functional and sterile, with efficient smears of blood. Modernity is a busy place, spinning with silicon speed that goes ever faster but never forward, people pressed into cities full of loneliness” (p.16)
  • “Modernity and its natural child postmodernity are pleased with their rejection of truth, beauty, and goodness—the three faces of culture.” (These three faces are a theme in the book.)
  • “Modern evangelicalism is just that—modern—in love with modernity, in love with individualism, egalitarianism, and perfect boxes” (p.17).
  • “Yet we thin-souled moderns are so proud of our rejection of poems and stories and paintings. We lead half-lives and die with less” (p.22).

Stirring stuff! At this point, I am expecting a book that draws upon broad learning and philosophical depth, something from undiscovered sages that will rival Nietszche for his poetry and provocation and make Allan Bloom look hopelessly ill-equipped to face the foe. Instead, they give us a uselessly vague “broad landscape of hues” (p.15).

Let’s rediscover beauty, they say. Sure! But what is it? Are they arguing for make-up and haut couture? If we follow their cue, will we sell our homes, move into tiny apartments, and build cathedrals?

They say our use of Greek philosophy violated the Christian antithesis, and they give a nod to the later medieval nominalists, as though that can be a philosophical resting place. It wasn’t then and it can’t be now. How then shall we think? They give us no indication.

They have a chapter on the importance of laughter and another one on enjoying good food. Great. I can see the dawn of civilization breaking through the steam of the lasagna.

Lectures on Calvinism

Kuyper, by contrast is a learned man who knows that of which he speaks. The great Dutch theologian and later the Dutch Prime Minister delivered these Stone Lectures at Princeton Seminary (still orthodox at that time) in 1898. Kuyper claims that Modernism’s clash with Christianity is an assault by “an all-embracing life-system.” When you understand that feature of modernity, you see that if Christianity is to overcome in the conflict (centuries old, at this point), “we have to take our stand in a life-system of equally comprehensive and far-reaching power” (p.11). He presents us with various comprehensive views of life that have animated civilization in the past: pagan, Muslim, Roman Catholic, Calvinist, and Modern. His account of modernity has lost none of its relevance, and his remarks on Islam are more pertinent today that he could have imagined.

Calvinism, he says, is not just a theology for worship, church order, and personal salvation. It provides a deep life-principle that applies to all aspects of life and gives them a liberating coherence. That principle is the sovereignty of God that calls us to live in the equal dignity of image-bearers under his divine government and before his holy presence in grace (coram deo). The cultural compromise of contemporary Evangelicalism shows that it lacks that broad organizing life-principle. In his own day, Kuyper spoke of Protestantism in general, “[wandering] about in the wilderness without aim or direction, moving hither and thither without making any progress” (pp.18-19).

Kuyper traces all that is best in modern western civilization to Calvinism, and he shows you how it happened. He provides provocative and illuminating lectures on politics, science, and art, and in the final lecture looks to the future. He distinguishes between special and common grace. He identifies various independent “spheres” of life. He gives criteria for these distinctions, shows the government’s limited role with respect to them, and shows the dignity and prosperity that comes from their preservation and cultivation.

Though a staunch Calvinist, he is not simply anti-Roman. He calls Reformed believers to work with Roman Catholics in the great confrontation with Modernism, though he notes that their influence is more fruitful in countries where they are not in power, i.e., in nations of a Calvinistic heritage. You can see the roots of First Things and the Acton Institute in these pages (pp.183-186).

We thought that repelling the Nazis was the great battle to preserve what Churchill called “Christian civilization.” In fact, the 500 year battle with modernism is that battle, and is reaching its peak in our day here in America. It has been easy to fool ourselves that we are still a Christian country beating back a challenge from a culturally hostile elite. And there has been a lot of truth in that characterization. But when we institute same-sex marriage, when we finally pulverize the building block of society, we can finally say that as a people we have fully apostatized. There is no longer even the semblance of a Christian society left. Then the church should be provoked to adopt the stance of alien in Babylon, and work out a comprehensively Christian cosmology over against the surrounding culture, instead of merely disagreeing over this moral issue and that.

Kuyper is a great help for those interested in launching that project.

David C. Innes is associate professor of politics at The King’s College in New York City, and co-author of the forthcoming Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media).

Reforming Politics One Citizen at a Time

 (A review of Matthew T. Parks and C. David Corbin, Keeping Our Republic, Principles for a Political Reformation. Resource Publications, 2011. $14.)

 After the 1789 Constitutional Convention adjourned and the exhausted delegates spilled into the streets of Philadelphia, someone asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well Doctor, what have we got–a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin’s response, always wise and witty, was, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

 Is that just an old-fashioned word…like “virtue” or “Presbyterian?” You don’t hear it much anymore. In fact, to describe America as a republic is to distinguish yourself as part of a well-informed elite. It is far more common for people to speak of our country as a “democracy.”

 But when we press for democracy in developing nations, i.e., for free and fair elections and universal suffrage, are we making them just like us? Surely not. There is more to the genius of the American political experiment than the rule of a majority vote. But there is also less. When we moved to universal adult suffrage with the nineteenth amendment, did we take on a different form of government? Did we move from oligarchy to democracy? Only the cynical say so.

 They don’t understand, however, what the authors of Keeping Our Republic understand, and what the Founders before them understood. America is a republic, a particular form of democratic self-government, and we forget this to our peril. So our Assistant Provost, Matthew Parks, and PPE Dean David Corbin have written this slender but important volume to take their fellow citizens through a crash course in who they need to be politically if their liberty is at all precious to them, republicanism 101 as it were. They offer the book in the hope of leading a twenty-first century “political reformation.”

 The remedy we usually hear for the American decline is to “throw the bums out!” But if a healthy republic requires healthy republican citizens—people who understand what liberty is and what it requires, and who are vigilant in its defense—then the battle for our republic is in the citizens themselves. Popular government—government of the people, by the people, and for the people, as Lincoln put it—is a delicate institution that depends on there being citizens who understand the principles of liberty and are disposed to sacrifice the immediate pleasures self-indulgence for the noble prospect of self-government.

 So the focus of this book is not populist elite-bashing, much as the entitled Ivy Leaguers who think it their natural right to rule us surely deserve it. It is Joe American to whom the authors are speaking, and no doubt also José American, as well as any citizen legislators whose consciences turn them to learned patriotic books. “We have lost touch with what it means to be a citizen of a republic.” The task therefore, is that we all, regardless of political party, “relearn how to think and how to act as republicans.” This book is for making citizens once again out of the subjects we have become.

 (This review appeared originally in the May 2011 issue of The Empire State Tribune, the student newspaper at The King’s College.)

David C. Innes is associate professor of politics at The King’s College in New York City, and co-author of the forthcoming Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media).

Bin Laden’s Death and Christian Rejoicing

Strong emotions can surprise us, and the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of American Navy SEALs stirred immediate emotions in American hearts, and Christian hearts were no exception. But Christians are more introspective than most and have more easily troubled consciences. Our religion is not one of merely outward rituals but of the changed and redirected heart.

So people have been in angst over whether we should rejoice over bin Laden’s death.

John Piper explores the complexity of God’s emotions and attempts to reconcile various seemingly conflicting passages. He writes:

“In one sense, human death is not God’s pleasure:

Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? . . .  For I do not pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live. (Ezekiel 18:23, 32).

In another sense, the death and judgment of the unrepentant is God’s pleasure:

Thus shall my anger spend itself, and I will vent my fury upon them and satisfy myself. (Ezekiel 5:13[Wisdom calls out:] Because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you. (Proverbs 1:25–26)

Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her! (Revelation 18:20)

As the Lord took delight in doing you good . . . so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. (Deuteronomy 28:63)

We should not cancel out any of these passages but think our way through to how they can all be true.”

Bottom line for Piper: “[W]hen a rebellious, wicked, unbelieving person is judged, what God has pleasure in is the exaltation of truth and righteousness, and the vindication of his own honor and glory.” (His reflections are adapted from The Pleasures of God, pp. 66-74.)

Albert Mohler has some sober and welcome words about “sober justice.”

“While we should all be glad that this significant threat is now removed, death in itself is never to be celebrated. Such celebration points to the danger of revenge as a powerful human emotion. Revenge has no place among those who honor justice. Retributive justice is sober justice. The reason for this is simple — God is capable of vengeance, which is perfectly true to his own righteousness and perfection — but human beings are not. We tend toward the mismeasure of justice when it comes to settling our own claims. All people of good will should be pleased that bin Laden is no longer a personal threat, and that his death may further weaken terrorist plans and aspirations. But revenge is not a worthy motivation for justice, and celebration in the streets is not a worthy response.”

Warren Cole Smith at WORLDmag.com is more dare-ye-cast-the-first-stone. “I certainly think we can and should celebrate the excellence, professionalism, and courage of the Navy SEALs who accomplished their mission. I think we should be grateful that an evildoer is now no longer able to do his evil in the world. But I also think we should be careful not to gloat. We should guard against triumphalism and pride. As a young man, Osama bin Laden drove fast cars and played soccer. There was a time when he was not so different from you and me.”

I am going to be less transpolitical about it. Here’s my take:

There is a buzz of debate among students at The King’s College where I teach. I don’t think anyone regrets that our Navy SEALs caught up with Osama bin Laden and plugged him. But not everyone is comfortable actually celebrating the fact.

It’s good, but are high fives in order? Should we party at Ground Zero? A man is dead. An evil man, to be sure. But a life that God made in his image has come to its earthly end, and a soul has been sent to judgment. Isn’t this an occasion for awful silence?

I think that such reserve is unwarranted because it fails to give proper weight to the central fact of the killing in question, namely, justice. Osama bin Laden ordered the murder of what turned out to be almost 3,000 people on September 11, 2001, and of 17 sailors on the U.S.S. Cole the previous year. He’s a mass murderer.

Regardless of what you think the role of government should be, it is indisputably to protect those under its care from murderous assault. And where someone has unjustly taken a life, it is government’s proper role to punish that injustice.

Osama bin Laden’s offense was even more serious in that it was an assault not only on private individuals, but upon the nation as a whole. It was an act of war by a foreign, sub-national organization. New York City and Washington DC were paralyzed. The nation was terrorized. And this was precisely what the al Qaeda leader hoped to accomplish.

When our special forces—arms of the American government—finally caught up with bin Laden in his Pakistani bunker-estate and popped him between the eyes, they not only secured the nation. They did justice. More specifically, the American civil government that God instituted by the will of the American people executed justice on a monstrous evil doer. Scripture tells us that civil government is God’s instrument, “an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Romans 13:4). “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19), and he executes his dread vengeance in part through the civil authorities he has appointed for that purpose.

A Christian can and should rejoice in all good things, among which is the execution of justice in the world. I work in Midtown Manhattan.  I’m sorry I missed the party at Ground Zero.

David C. Innes is associate professor of politics at The King’s College in New York City, and co-author of the forthcoming Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media).