Politics. It's been a confusing subject for me ever since junior high school, when my sisters and I would watch the evening news with our father and discuss it over the dinner table. I knew it was a realm full of strong opinions and heated debate, but I had no idea which opinions were right. Sure, studying it in college gave me tons of information about it, but it didn't do much to help clear up the confusion, or to help me understand what God thought about politics or how I should think about it.
I know it might be an intimidating topic to approach, or confusing to think about.
So when I preached on the Gospel and Politics this Sunday as part of our series The Transcultural Outpost, I had in mind two main audiences. First, if you're a political neophyte – someone who's confused, apathetic about or repulsed by the subject – I wanted to give you a basic starting point from which to begin thinking about it.
I also had in mind, however, the politically active – those who might consider themselves informed and opinionated, or involved in a cause or a party, or perhaps those who once were these things but have been disillusioned by some present state of affairs. If this is you, I wanted to provide you with some fresh, biblical truth by which you might challenge and evaluate your current attitudes and opinions, and renew your thinking on and interest in the subject.
Because I had such a wide range of audiences in mind, I tried to state my points as simply and clearly as possible for immediate consumption, but I also designed them to be fodder for long-term reflection, unpacking, application and action. The principles I stated are meaty protein, not simple sugars; they're digestible, but provide tons of flavor even after long simmering and chewing, and long-lasting fuel for prolonged, active exertion. They're dense with meaning.
A few folks have requested a copy of these points for further reflection. So here’s my basic outline, some additional resources, and for your convenience, a link to the audio recording.
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Main point: two essential elements for thinking about, discussing and doing politics are (1.) Clarity, and (2.) Charity.
1. Clarity is the first essential element for thinking about politics. Clarity specifically about government, its job, its authority, and our relationship to it.
- Biblical Texts
- Romans 13:1-7. Three things Paul teaches about government:
- First, we are called to submit to government.
- Second, government has authority from God. It is God's Servant.
- Third, the task or function of government is to punish evil conduct and approve good conduct – in other words, to establish justice.
- Genesis 9:5-7.
- God requires justice - a reckoning for evil.
- God requires such justice from human beings. This is the origin of human government.
- Just governing promotes life, peace and the flourishing of society. Other texts:
- Summarized by Abraham Kuyper in Lectures on Calvinism:
- "When therefore humanity falls apart through sin... when sin, in the bosom of the nations, separates men and tears them apart, and when sin reveals itself in all manner of shame and unrighteousness, - the glory of God demands that these horrors be bridled, that order return to this chaos, and that a compulsory force, from without, assert itself to make human society a possibility."
- Romans 13:1-7. Three things Paul teaches about government:
- Six Foundational Principles for Politics
- First, if government’s authority comes from God, we must respect and obey it.
- Second, if government’s task is to promote justice, we should work towards a just government.
- Justice should be one of the chief criteria we use to evaluate the performance of government.
- Third, if the source of the government’s authority and task is God’s own authority, then our ultimate authority in politics and thinking about government must be God.
- Fourth, if the authority of government comes from God, it is limited in its authority.
- God has created other institutions, and given them their own authority, rights and responsibilities. These include: the Church, the Family, and Individuals created in the Image of God.
- This entails a number of principles and ideals:
- Civil rights and liberties - the rights of these other institutions and authorities.
- Separation of church and state. Which we should agree with, and which is not the same as separation of God and politics (which we cannot agree with).
- Some limit to the "size" of government. Government cannot fix everything; it should not take on the job of these other institutions.
- Fifth, the limit of government authority implies an obligation to disobey it when it disobeys God (Acts 5:27-29).
- Sixth, if government is instituted by God, then He is sovereign over every government, including unjust ones.
2. Charity is the second essential element for thinking about, discussing and doing politics. Charity, or love. Towards whom?
- Charity towards fellow believers
- The Bible and its principles are clear; the application of them are not as clear at times. This requires knowledge of the facts on the ground surrounding a political issue. It requires a conversation guided by the six principles above, along with other clear biblical principles.
- Another clear principle that should guide a charitable conversation is this: politics is not the gospel. It's important - it's a matter of discipleship for Christians - but it's not of first importance. It's also not the Great Commission; it is not the mission of the church as an institution, though again it is an important matter of discipleship for individual Christians.
- Charity towards non-Christians
- Politics may not be the first thing Christians should be eager to talk about with non-Christians; it's not the gospel.
- But Christians should state and defend their biblically informed opinions about politics to unbelievers when appropriate, and do so charitably. They should engage in apologetics. Three steps:
- First, say you hold these opinions because the Bible and God Himself are your authority.
- Second, say why you believe God to be the best authority.
- If they disagree that God is your authority, then, Third, ask them who their authority is, and lovingly challenge them as to why this should be their authority, why they should believe it rather than the God revealed in Jesus Christ.
- Charity towards society-at-large
- Because God is in control over even evil governments, then we don't need to be motivated by anger at the loss of control. We can be motivated by love for society, a desire to see its flourishing, and righteousness (which leads to righteous anger).
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So, let's have the conversation on politics.
Are there any topics you feel particularly passionate about? Are there topics you feel Christians should be more informed and passionate about? On the other end of the spectrum, are there topics you feel Christians need to be less incensed about?
Feel free to provide thoughts and comments below.
-Daniel Lee, Director of Operations/Pastoral Assistant
For further reading and fodder for thought, start with the following resources. They may not all agree with each other at every point, but they try to start in the same place: Scripture as authority, and the Gospel as of first importance.
- Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible (crystal clear; leans conservative all-around, but for biblical reasons)
- John Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today
- Albert Mohler, albertmohler.com (blog, great podcast The Briefing)
- Russell Moore, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel
- The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
- Timothy Keller, Generous Justice (not directly political, but paints a picture of how we ought to pursue justice in society)
- Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, chapter on politics (free online here; a bit more advanced conceptually, and the writing style's a bit archaic and tough to read; he was a Dutchman)