Tag Archives: Innes

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).

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).

Our Hellish Doctrine

In Sunday’s New York Times, Ross Douthat, a Roman Catholic, gave us “A Case for Hell.” (Yes, The New York Times sometimes delivers sermons for us so that we are not without appropriate Sabbath reading.)

The doctrine of hell, by contrast, assumes that our choices are real, and, indeed, that we are the choices that we make. The miser can become his greed, the murderer can lose himself inside his violence, and their freedom to turn and be forgiven is inseparable from their freedom not to do so.

As Anthony Esolen writes, in the introduction to his translation of Dante’s “Inferno,” the idea of hell is crucial to Western humanism. It’s a way of asserting that “things have meaning” — that earthly life is more than just a series of unimportant events, and that “the use of one man’s free will, at one moment, can mean life or death … salvation or damnation.”

As you can see, his argument comes down to sovereign human choice-making. I find that just a little less self-centered than the self-justifying universalist view he is trying to refute.

It is interesting to me that in his argument he makes no mention of Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant. Without Christ, his subtle indignation that anyone would suggest that Gandhi is anywhere but in heaven is more appealing. Only the news that’s fit to print, I suppose.

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).

The Golden Rule in Politics

There has been a surge of books recently on what the politics of a Christian should be. Wayne Grudem’s Politics According to the Bible, Gerson and Wehner’s City of Man, and Beckwith’s Politics for Christians. Carl Trueman’s Republocrats takes a more bipartisan, transpartisan or multipartisan approach, depending on how you view it. (Interestingly, none of these books is written by a political scientist.) I will have my own book out in October.

This is far short of a book (though they have a fine book, Keeping Our Republic), but EPSA members Matthew Parks and David Corbin have a reflection on the Golden Rule in its relation to the budget battle on Capitol Hill in their Worldmag column today, “Revitalizing Golden Rule Politics.”

But even if the Tea Party “brand” has been tarnished or the kettle has lost some of its steam, the movement has already accomplished two things of lasting value: It has forced political leaders to confront our fiscal crisis with more seriousness than we have seen in a generation and revitalized “Golden Rule” politics as the most just and reasonable way out of it. …

Is there a simple way out of our fiscal crisis? Not if simple means only tinker around the edges of the status quo. But Reagan and the Tea Party have reminded us of a simple principle that should guide all American public policy: the Golden Rule. Why is it right for the Tea Party to insist that we obey the (real) Constitution? Because it is the common rule of our politics and the common security for all who live under it. Why it is right for the Tea Party to call for immediate, serious action to reduce our long-term debt? Because you don’t leave your mess for others to clean up. Why is it right for the Tea Party to challenge “earmarks” and every other form of special tax or spending privilege? Because these do unto others what I would not have done to myself—making them work so that I can eat.

So it seems that our Lord’s Golden Rule entails the rule of law, in particular the principle that those who make the laws should themselves be governed by whatever laws they make. This is what John Adams, our second president, had in mind when he commended (quoting Harrington) “an empire of laws, and not of men.” If we could unambiguously establish that principle in Washington and in the fabric of American thinking once again, our government would be more just and more Christian at the same time.

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).

Politics, Evil, and Hope

After last week’s column on the West Bank Fogel massacre (“Middle East Murder“), it struck me–or I should say weighed heavily on me–that there is a lot of evil making the news these days. It crowds into limited news time and forces itself on our attention.

Just after the beginning of the Jewish sabbath on March 11, terrorists from Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade (so-called) broke into a West Bank settlement home and butchered Rabbi Uri Fogel in his bed, along with his infant daughter, his wife, Ruth, and two of their sons, ages 11 and 4. This was not shooting from a distance; this was throat slashing and heart stabbing. Two children survived the massacre only because the monsters who flooded the home with blood overlooked them. The 12-year-old daughter arrived home after midnight from a youth event to behold what no human being should ever witness.

That same day, the earthquake and tsunami hit northeast Japan with a resultant nuclear crisis that has pushed even the misery of 450,000 people whom the disaster made homeless.

This volunteer fireman lost his wife, his son’s family, and his four grandchildren when he went to close a wall against the tsunami. Warning, it is very sad.

Then there’s Libya where the self-styled Mad Dog of the Middle East has been shooting and bombing his own unarmed people (as well as the subsequently armed ones) when he foresaw their protests sending him into exile as Hosni Mubarak’s room-mate.

And all of that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg as far as human suffering in the world is concerned. It’s in Syrian dungeons, Thai brothels, Brazilian slums, and it’s on your street.

In this week’s column at Worldmag.com, “Overcome by Evil These Days?,” I indicate where the wise turn when they come to face the ubiquitous evil of a fallen world.

[C]onsider that this face full of suffering is just a small sliver of all the evil that infests the world—in dungeons, in halls of power, in cities and villages, and in private homes everywhere. We’re able to get through each day only by not knowing anything more than glimpses of what’s going on.

Confronted with this, we are tempted to seek remedies in political reform and military force, and these can accomplish real good. God established government to restrain and punish evil. But, this side of the Lord’s return, political hopes always exceed human abilities, and efforts to right wrongs almost always bring further unhappiness whether by unforeseen accident or opportunistic scoundrels. So we pursue justice and mercy, but for deliverance we look beyond what we can do.

When we get so deep in the mire of disaster and iniquity that our legs weaken and our hearts fail, we are wise to turn to the Lord who, knowing the full depth of all evil, addressed it on the cross. Jesus told his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He defeated evil with a view to the New Creation that is yet to come and that will forever banish tears to the past (Revelation 21). But He gives victory over evil also in you and people like you in Japan and Gaza and Libya and everywhere under the sun. And He gives strength in suffering to His people as they faithfully await “our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

Note: I understand there is a difference between the evil of natural disasters and the evils of tyranny and terrorism. But in different ways they all result of the fall, but our hope in the face of all of them is eschatological and centered in Christ.

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).