All-I-Am-Is-Yours asks:

I am trying to better understand the intellectual foundations behind the similarities of both libertarianism and christianity, however I came across a Wikipedia entry that suggests a difference between “Christian libertarianism” and “Libertarian Christianity.” Is there any essential and significant difference between both terms?

Great question! The Wikipedia entry you mention suggests that “libertarian Christianity” comes from a specific blend of systematic and biblical theology. They suppose they are distinct from “Christian libertarians” because of their “Bible-based legal philosophy using biblical hermeneutics that are different from those used by Christian libertarians.” (That’s a Wikipedia quote.) To me, this sounds more or less like theonomic reconstructionism, a view I respect but with which I very much disagree for a variety of reasons.

In contrast, “Christian libertarianism describes the synthesis of Christian beliefs concerning human nature and dignity with libertarian political philosophy.” (Also a Wikipedia quote.) Christian libertarianism looks for the congruence of libertarian political thought and Christian theology because of a firm belief in the harmony of natural law with sound theological principles. I have written a few essays that take this approach, including an article for the Washington Post.

This is fundamentally why you will never hear me describe what I believe as “libertarian Christianity.” As it is, the terms comes a bit too front-loaded for me. However, I have no problem calling myself a libertarian Christian OR Christian libertarian. In fact, I’ve written a bit more on that topic in this blog post.

This has been included in the FAQ of LibertarianChristians.com. Have a question? Ask away.

Dr. Norman Horn

Norman founded LibertarianChristians.com and the Libertarian Christian Institute, and currently serves as its President and Editor-in-Chief. He holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from the Austin Graduate School of Theology. He currently is a Postdoctoral researcher in Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • LJ

    Norman, you wrote: ”

    In contrast, “Christian
    libertarianism describes the synthesis of Christian beliefs concerning human
    nature and dignity with libertarian political philosophy.” (Also a
    Wikipedia quote.) Christian libertarianism looks for the congruence of libertarian
    political thought and Christian theology because of a firm belief in the
    harmony of natural law with sound theological principles.”

    I had been calling myself a Christian Libertarian for quite sometime before I found your excellent Blog about two years ago. I’ve been a subscriber and a frequent reader ever since. But I would like to point out some differences in what I mean when I call myself a Christian Libertarian and, apparently, what you (and Wikipedia) mean by that title.

    First, I place deliberately place CHRISTIAN before LIBERTARIAN because Biblical Christian presuppositions inform any Libertarian views I hold; there is no “synthesis” other than when Libertarian philosophical principles agree with Biblical Christian philosophical/theological principles. Libertarian philosophy never informs Christian philosophy. The Austrian guys were often correct in their conclusions only accidentally as they agreed with Biblical presuppositions; happily they were NOT empiricists and partly because of that they almost got it right.

    Next, so-called “natural law” never informs Biblical law, i.e., God’s law. The term “natural law” is somewhat slippery having grown since the Reformation to mean something other than what Calvin, for example, meant by the term. Today it might mean law that man derives purely through the reasoning process. I deny any validity to that law other than when and if it agrees with God’s revealed law. It is also used another way today whereby laws are called “innate” in all mankind. This is a more Biblical use of the term but usually the affect of sin on the law written on our minds or consciences is given insufficient consideration and the revelation of God’s law in Scripture is either ignored or explained away.

    So to be a Christian Libertarian, in my view, is to hold God’s revealed law in the Bible as the STANDARD which informs all philosophical positions, be they political, ethical, historical, epistemological, or scientific. Happily the political and economic philosophy revealed in the Bible is that of liberty in both political and economic matters. As I wrote above that is why the Austrian School was often correct in their conclusions. The Bible’s view is economically laissez faire politically and its form of government is a constitutional (revealed law) republic. That is what I mean when I call myself a CHRISTIAN LIBERTARIAN.

    LJ

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  • LJ: Thanks for your comment, I have only had time to seriously attend to it now because I have been traveling off and on and have had much going on at home. I’d like to address some of your points because they certainly warrant further discussion and I respect you very much.

    “First, I place deliberately place CHRISTIAN before LIBERTARIAN because Biblical Christian presuppositions inform any Libertarian views I hold; there is no “synthesis” other than when Libertarian philosophical principles agree with Biblical Christian philosophical/theological principles. Libertarian philosophy never informs Christian philosophy.”

    First off, I hold the opinion that one can put either as the adjective to the other (see my previous article) in good conscience.

    Second, having considered what I wrote briefly, I wonder if I should have stuck with the previous wording I have often used in describing LCC: that it looks at the intersections of libertarian theory and Christian theology (instead of “synthesis). That is, you would of course be right to argue for the supremacy of Christ over everything. Yet, I cannot help but think that by studying libertarian theory I have come to a better understanding of many things about the world, including God. Consider it from another angle — can the study of the natural world tell you anything about God at all? Romans 1 seems to indicate that one OUGHT to have this ability. More in the next section.

    “The Austrian guys were often correct in their conclusions only accidentally as they agreed with Biblical presuppositions; happily they were NOT empiricists and partly because of that they almost got it right. Next, so-called “natural law” never informs Biblical law, i.e., God’s law.”

    I respectfully disagree that they were correct by “accident”. God created this world to be understandable to other, relatively independent beings, i.e., humankind. We have the capacity to study the world around us and come to true conclusions about the way it works — including ethics. Such conclusions are not always made correctly, and thus the revelation of God is critical in correcting our faults. “Natural law” does not “inform” God’s law, but it will “conform” to it. Thus, if I finds an apparent contradiction between the two, then I am the one who is wrong either in my understanding of God’s law or the natural law. God is rational, logical, non-contradictory. His creation is likewise.

    “The term “natural law” is somewhat slippery having grown since the Reformation to mean something other than what Calvin, for example, meant by the term. Today it might mean law that man derives purely through the reasoning process. I deny any validity to that law other than when and if it agrees with God’s revealed law. It is also used another way today whereby laws are called “innate” in all mankind. This is a more Biblical use of the term but usually the affect of sin on the law written on our minds or consciences is given insufficient consideration and the revelation of God’s law in Scripture is either ignored or explained away.”

    It “might” mean what you say, but I think you might be missing the long use of “natural law” as part of western legal principles going back to the Scholastics and continuing today through thinkers such as Andrew Napolitano, Ron Paul, Murray Rothbard, and many others. I take a “concordance” view of natural law, which would hold (much as I have stated above) that ethics/law is discoverable, part of the general revelation of God, and will always be in agreement with what God has told us via special revelation.

    “So to be a Christian Libertarian, in my view, is to hold God’s revealed law in the Bible as the STANDARD which informs all philosophical positions, be they political, ethical, historical, epistemological, or scientific. Happily the political and economic philosophy revealed in the Bible is that of liberty in both political and economic matters. As I wrote above that is why the Austrian School was often correct in their conclusions. The Bible’s view is economically laissez faire politically and its form of government is a constitutional (revealed law) republic. That is what I mean when I call myself a CHRISTIAN LIBERTARIAN.

    I always appreciate the motive behind holding the Bible up as “standard”, but we have to remember what my father-in-law has long said, “The Bible doesn’t tell you how to bake a cake.” In other words, it doesn’t inform you about every conceivable thing, and I don’t think you can expect it to do so. Nonetheless, God’s word is infallible, meaning that you can always trust everything it does tell you about any of these philosophical positions. Thus, we find that we can be ever confident in our staunchest belief in individual liberty and the immorality of statism. At every turn, whether in the Scripture or history or well-reasoned philosophy, we see that liberty is what every human deserves. And that’s why I’m a Christian libertarian.