Tag Archives: political theology

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).

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).