A New Year and God: An Exhortation

Posted on January 5, 2014 by


In this new year it is always useful to take stock of where we are and have been, but more helpful is it to take a renewed look at who God is and why it matters.  For Christians 2013 has been a mixed bag, or worse, depending on one’s disposition.  We read of persecution of Christians in the Middle East, a kind of mini-war against Christianity by a new breed of more militant atheists, a seemingly official opposition to public Christianity by the Federal government, particularly in the Armed Forces, but also to some extent via the Federal courts, the growing legalization of homosexual marriage and, beyond that, a much more strident attitude by the homosexual community that seems to believe not only that we all should allow certain practices, but also accept these practices and orientations as valid, and finally the imminent implementation of the mandate to businesses and other “religious organizations” to provide free insurance coverage for abortifacients in violation of conscience.  Besides all these we appear to have witnessed a degeneration of societal mores.

For Christians interested in the intersection of politics and economics the year has seen little progress, though some promise as well.  For example, there is a growing movement to show how markets are actually morally consistent with Scripture, as well as “working well” to create wealth and alleviate poverty.  The American Enterprise Institute, with Arthur Brooks, the Acton Institute, the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics, and Christian writers such as Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus and Jay Richards have been articulating a clear and convincing argument for market morality.  Their arguments are resonating, albeit slowly. 

In the political realm, Christians have been slower to respond, but then, they have not taken the brunt of criticism to the same extent as capitalism has.  It may be debatable, but I perceive that Christian scholars are mired in a dilemma similar to that of the famous “Buridan’s Ass” conundrum of medieval philosophy and theology, between the two poles of general revelation taken to its empirical-pragmatic extreme and special revelation in its detail as a model for substantive political philosophy.  They are not sure which way to go or how far in one direction, possibly out of a certain fear of losing respectability on the one hand and discarding any Christian connection on the other. 

Some tentative steps have already been taken, but they have been few and somewhat marginalized.  At times even our Jewish counterparts in political philosophy have been doing better work with the Bible itself (the Old Testament) than Christians.  The so-called “Political Hebraism” scholars (Daniel Elazar, Gordon Schochet, Fania-Oz Salzbburger, and others) have wrestled with texts of the Scripture, whereas Christians have all but ignored it except to baptize some secular idea with a veneer of biblical “unsophistication.”  The last time a Christian attempted a biblical analysis of political legal thought, he (they, actually) was laughed out of court instead of greeted with serious interaction (note Greg Bahnsen and Gary North).  While they might have been wrong, where were the rest of us in taking a cue from the seriousness with which they took Scripture.  But my aim is not to rant.  Whither Christian political thought?

The answer to that question depends largely on the societal trends.  In a democracy where a majority typically (or ideally) wins elections or legislative votes, and where courts have been increasingly populated with judges trained in “new” legal theories, progress in getting anyone to accept Christian ideas seems impossible unless those ideas are so diluted that they no longer resemble Christian ones.  This is not to say that politics is not often a matter of prudence rather than dogmatic principle.  Not all political issues are matters of direct biblical principle.  Some are not even addressed by Scripture except in the very broad parameters.  Some matters are even choices between two acceptable alternatives.  But that still leaves us with much to say, potentially, but little will to say it.

Christians will need to find their voice.  What will that voice sound like?  I would like to suggest that we as believing scholars ought to begin to re-examine the legitimate place of Scripture in its explicit use in political thinking.  For too long now Christians have drifted from this close connection.  We have chosen some variety of natural law theory, or pragmatism combined with empiricism, or simply an ad hoc approach.  We have also chosen a Left-leaning Christian politics or a Right-leaning orientation without much foundation in Scripture and so, even when we were right, we didn’t know why and could not articulate a coherent position sustainable against attacks from outside.

But let’s get to the nub of this blog?  In our failings, are we to despair?  No, resoundingly no, because God is sovereign.  But what does that mean and why does it matter?  Very simply, God is in constant and direct control of every event that occurs.  That is, He knows and directs every event, no matter how seemingly insignificant or how apparently important, at all times and in all places and perfectly justly, without error.  This fact about God of course presupposes God’s omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence, but also His perfect goodness, love and justice, and His errorless knowledge.  Now this means that we need not despair. But on the other hand, it does not mean we do not work.  God acts in and through His children and also non-believers to accomplish His purposes.  He particularly is active in His people to “will and to work His good pleasure” even as we actually work here on earth.  We may plan, strategize, think, write, execute, and articulate, knowing that God will help us, if we act according to His will as expressed in the Scriptures.  We may not have such confidence if we deliberately ignore the principles of the Word of God, though He may choose to act on our behalf in spite of us, in His mercy and grace.

In the new year, will we resolve to press on in the power of a sovereign God?  Or will we shrink in fear?  Will we resolve to make more explicit and unapologetic use of the Scriptures in our political and economic thought?  Or will we view that as inappropriate or “unscientific” or offensive?  While remaining gracious will we nevertheless proclaim in our scholarship and our writings that Christ is King and that the Word of God is our blueprint for understanding all of life truthfully?  I pray that will be our goal as we “number our days.” (Psalm 90)