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When progressives emphasize social justice by using collectivist phrases like “common good” and “caring for our neighbor,” the typical reaction of libertarians is to focus on their wrongheaded policies and methodology. But libertarians who call themselves followers of Jesus can greatly benefit by understanding an important aspect of the gospel. If the good news of Jesus Christ is sufficient for personal transformation, it is sufficient for social transformation as well. But progressives fail to produce workable and ethical social reform, whereas libertarians offer ideas that are not only compatible with social justice efforts, they offer an ethical social framework within which to produce it. Read More→

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416X-+ksjkL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_If you enjoy reading as much as I do, the stack of books on your nightstand is about to topple and your Amazon Wish List is so large it requires its own web host. If our book selection is alike, some of those books share a perspective favorable to our shared bias toward liberty, while others do not. I like to be informed about opposing sides of an issue, but there is so much to learn and not enough time. Every field of study has a plethora of literature from a range of perspectives. Reading multiple full-length books on each one would be immensely time-consuming.

Thankfully there is a market solution to this dilemma. Years ago publishers invented a product for those who want to stay informed but are short on time: the multiple views books. These books contrast the differences of opinion on a single topic in the context of a conversation among experts, all in a single volume. There are trade-offs, of course. Multiple-view books contain theses that are succinct but not fully developed, while single-view books usually are more comprehensive. Single-view books, however, suffer from one disadvantage: the authors are often not engaged in the same conversation. Read More→

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During a breakout session at the 2015 International Students for Liberty Conference, I was part of a panel with Norman Horn, Jason Rink, and Chris Wolske. In brief comments before a Q&A for the panel, I shared a word on why I am a libertarian and a Christian. Below are the notes I wrote down and shared with the audience. 

Being a Christian and a libertarian are not merely two groups with whom I happen to identify. I am not a libertarian who happens to be a Christian, nor a Christian who happens to be a libertarian. The connection between liberty and my Christian faith runs deeper than that.

We live in a world dominated by empire, and I believe the message of Jesus is relevant to and necessary for healing what is wrong in our world.

Whether we are citizens of the empire or citizens of nations dominated by the empire, we have a joint responsibility to communicate the alternative message of peace in an age where violence is an acceptable means to achieve worthwhile goals.

Because I am an evangelical protestant I can only speak of my knowledge in evangelicalism, but there is a major paradigm shift happening that some say happen every 500 years or so. We are experiencing a Great Emergence in society, an emergence away from centralizing authority and concentrated power. This shift presents an opportunity for libertarians in the Church because the Church has yet to build a coherent theology of the State. (There are indeed academic works available that address the issues near and dear to libertarians’ hearts, but the active living out of these ideas is foreign to American Christians.)

This conversational shift typically focuses on issues such as peace, reconciliation, and social justice. Faith communities dedicated to a theology of peace and reconciliation are often either non-participatory in nature (Anabaptism) or gives the State a pass for wielding violence (Progressives). Those who press for social justice are often naive and appear to need of a heavy dose of economics to bring them back to reality. This is not to be an excuse to do nothing, but ought to provide a framework from within which human beings can move forward in cooperation in a pluralist society.

It is often assumed that Jesus was not political, which sort of delegates his role to Secretary of Afterlife Affairs. But the gospel of Jesus is indeed political, but in ways we have not always expected. The gospel of Jesus is the announcement of God’s movement through the world, and is essentially an invitation to join God’s movement. In context this meant a movement away from the violent impulses against the Roman Empire’s occupation of Israel. Jesus picks up on the prophetic tradition that eschews violence and envisions a world where those who are otherwise at odds with one another are no longer in conflict.

As pastor-poet Brian Zahnd has said, “Empires are rich and powerful nations which believe they have a right to rule other nations and a manifest destiny to shape the world according to their agenda. God regards this as a transgression upon his sovereignty… The throne of God and political empire will always be in opposition to one another. God and Satan will always be in opposition to one another.”

If the gospel is the announcement that Jesus is Lord, by implication this means Caesar is not. By further implication it also means, “and everybody else is not.”

This is why I’m a libertarian Christian. I believe God’s nature is such that God gives us the freedom to choose how we act in a world stricken by violence. I believe that God has spoken to us the truth in Jesus. Jesus is what God has to say. The message of Jesus, the gospel, is a counter-script to the oppressing narrative of empire and its demand for allegiance.

I’m very passionate about how to converse with those with whom we disagree, whether they are antagonistic or mildly interested. I strive for discussing the following three basic principles:

1. Anything Peaceful – if our solutions are not predicated upon a commitment to peace, we’re doing it wrong

2. State ≠ Society – a single institution does not represent society, especially the larger the number of persons is supposedly represents

3. Don’t Tread on Anyone – the logical implication for liberty is that it applies equally to all, especially for those who are otherwise unable to defend themselves

For more details about these three principles (and comments I had to leave out due to time), please check out my talk from Christians for Liberty 2014.

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Jan
07

Hack Back Against the State

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The past 100 years of mostly free markets have witnessed unprecedented advances that allow millions to enjoy life in ways our ancestors could not fathom. From communications to transportation, we live in a world with much greater potential than ever before.

Take our smart phones, for example. My wife and I listen to any lecture, talk show, audiobook, or genre of music we can think of, anywhere and anytime. We video chat with friends in Japan. We capture video of our children playing in the snow and immediately display the video on our TV before they’ve taken off their snow clothes. My wife virtually runs her business from her iPhone!

We learned to lay and grout tile, install and trim doorways, caulk stairs, and properly paint our basement.  All for free.

Even things like microwaves, lawnmowers, refrigerators, automobiles, or anything digital are plentiful for even the poorest in many countries. Take anything that is electric, powered, or even plastic, and it was not even invented when the Declaration of Independence was signed. Welcome to the Jetsons World.

Most of us delight in the benefits of technology. Yet for all the luxury around us, there is often a lack of excellence in goods that have been around for much longer. We can video chat with somebody around the world, but bandages won’t stick to our skin. We have constant weather information at our fingertips, but our washed clothes are still dirty. Fuel containers spill everywhere despite newfangled engineering “improvements.” Wiper fluid is hardly better than water. Mowers and trimmers take forever to start. And most importantly, our showers are no longer satisfying!

Until I started reading Jeffrey Tucker, these mildly annoying features of my day were, as they say, “the way things are.” But Tucker has a knack for recognizing and writing about the little evils spawned from the government that makes our lives a little (sometimes a lot) less pleasurable. I call them “little evils” because few people care enough to notice. There are no activists lobbying the government to reverse the cause.

When ignorance is bliss, knowledge like this can feel like hell.

I first learned about my shower head. Then I learned my “hot” water isn’t above a temperature suitable for killing bacteria! Next I discovered that my clothes and dishes aren’t really clean because the active ingredient in detergents has been removed! My kids learned that their bandages won’t stay on for longer than a few hours because the government regulated away effective adhesive glue. Most recently I learned how windshield wiper fluid is diluted.

For me, the worst are those new gas cans that have only one opening, for both ventilation and pouring. Why only one? As expected, it’s all in the name of safety and environmental concerns. Trouble is, I’ve spilled more gasoline in the short span of time I’ve owned the new can than with all of my other containers combined! To top it off, nobody I know has said anything good about these gas cans! Wait, no, there is one. A pilot I know who relishes that he can completely turn his can upside down without holding it while he fills his Piper Cub. Well, at least we can thank the government for fixing that problem!

Egregious or not, this occurs because government bureaucrats want to regulate our lives into despair. It’s why the cliché, “They don’t make ‘em like they used to” rings true. What is most troubling is that the source to these problems is so opaque. Most people just shrug and move on.

What are we to do? Thankfully, Jeffrey Tucker has, of course, given us the necessary ammunition to fight back against the state’s insistence on making my life a little worse off every day: hack your shower head, tweak your hot water heater, and stock up on soon-to-be-banned items.

Here’s the big list. This is worth reading. And sharing.

If you are unconvinced by how important this is, ask yourself, “When was the last time I enjoyed a really good, hot shower?”

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Nov
28

Peter Enns Tells Me So

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peteennsPeter Enns is a professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University with a PhD in Near Ancient Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University. His newest book is The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It. I wrote a favorable review of the book here, and was fortunate to have Enns agree to answer a few questions.*

Philology question: In your book you frequently encourage modern readers to try to read the Bible with “ancient eyes,” so to speak. For the reader who doesn’t have extensive knowledge of ancient languages and culture, how should we begin to make this difficult shift in our perspective on biblical texts and their meanings? In other words, where does the non-scholar begin?

I think we do that already with any book we read, including the Bible. If we are reading the Iliad, Beowulf, or Romeo and Juliet, we know instinctively that these were written long ago and we need to keep that in mind as we read. In fact, we are most eager to do so, and to read any other way would strike most people as quite odd.

A counter-question could be this: Why is there often such resistance to the idea when we come to the Bible, as if we can now be relieved of the burden of reading with some effort and discipline? Most answer that the Bible is God’s timeless word and therefore speaks to all in every age. Yes! But as words written by people long ago and far away, and it is precisely here if anywhere that we must put ourselves and our traditions out of the hermeneutical center, so to speak. Reading the Bible with ancient eyes is a privilege, a challenge, and a sign of humility.

And one does not have to be well-versed in ancient history to do this. Any decent study Bible, with notes, maps, and essays, is more than enough. (Personally, I like the Jewish Study Bible for the Old Testament, and Interpreters Study Bible or the Oxford Annotated Bible for both New and Old Testaments.) Beyond that there are mountains of popular books and commentaries that are easily accessible. It may take time to find ones that are most useful, but there should be no hurry here. This is a lifetime path.

Pluralism question:. I’m sure many people fear your approach would lead to total subjectivity. How do you allay their anxiety and empower your readers to wisely “pick and choose” what parts of Scripture take priority over others? 

I want to make sure I am not misunderstood here: I do not advocate causing anxiety. But I’m not sure I can allay anyone’s anxiety, or that it should be allayed. Anxiety is the very problem that pins us down to stay huddled where we are rather than trusting God and risking our comfort for what God may have for us. I do understand that anxiety, but the answer is not to “make it go away” by retreating and reaffirming old patterns, but summoning up holy courage for bearing through.

One angle on the problem is that Christians are taught that “subjectivity” is bad and to be avoided at all costs when reading scripture. I get that but the fact remains that subjectivity is an invariable component of the human experience, and all of us read scripture subjectively despite our best efforts (and this includes biblical scholars).

Also, scripture simply does not provide the “objective anchor” some think it does, and my proof being the tremendous amount synchronic (around the world at any one moment) and diachronic (across church history) diversity we see in biblical interpretation. That’s why we have denominations and sub-denominations, and battles within denominations, etc. Surely if the Bible were this objective, we’d be a lot better as a church at agreeing on what it means.

Political question: Most people believe the message of Jesus has social implications, so naturally everyone likes to claim that Jesus is on their side. Does Jesus have a “side” to take in contemporary issues? How do we avoid squeezing Jesus into our political ideas? 

In part by remembering my comments about hermeneutics and subjectivity above. The message of Jesus has revolutionary social implications, which include de-centering one’s own agendas and putting the other first. I think people can have all sorts of legitimate differences of opinion in how best the gospel is to be worked out socially, but perhaps at least as important is how that is done—namely with humility, so as not to slander or delegitimize the other, and self-examination, to keeps one’s agenda in check as much as possible.

Beyond that, simply watching Christians working all this out with humility would be a breath of fresh air within the church and a truly courageous witness to the world we live in that the gospel works, because love prevails.

Parenting question: Can you offer some pointers on how we can teach our children to love and trust the Bible, while not perpetuating falsehoods about what is factual (and why it’s okay the Bible isn’t always factual)? It’s hard for us, even as adults, to understand non-literal explanations of ancient texts? How do we begin to help our children, whose minds are by nature of development still very literal and concrete, to understand that the stories didn’t necessarily happen just as the Bible says they did?

First, let me say that I am part of a new Bible curriculum called Telling God’s Story. I wrote the parent guide to the entire series and the lessons for grades 1 (link) and 2 (link). The idea is to introduce the children to Jesus in the Gospels in grades 1-4, move to some of the more complex narratives and timelines of the Old Testament for grades 5-8, and then focus on reading the Bible in its historical settings during the high school years. (To date, grades 1-3 are complete and grade 4 is in production.)

One of the purposes of this curriculum is to major on the main point of the Bible for Christians—Jesus—at an early age and only address the larger questions of how to read the Bible and the historical contexts of the Bible in the more mature years, and especially as they get ready to move on to college.

I think the Bible becomes much more of a problem in later years when young children are expected to navigate things like Adam or the Flood story too early, when they are at a more concrete stage of learning. But then, when they get a bit older and start subtracting their world and see that a talking serpent doesn’t seem any more plausible than a Saturday morning cartoon, they are faced with a problem of the Bible “getting it wrong.”

I think children fairly early on have a good sense of what is to be taken non-literally—like serpents talking. The real issue may be cultivating those instincts and valuing that as part of their spiritual development, rather than curtailing those instincts in the name of an alleged “high” view of scripture, where literalism typically reigns.

This may involve creating an environment at home where children feel free to ask questions and draw their own age-appropriate conclusions—even ones that might frighten parents trying to raise their children to be faithful to God. I know my own children picked up very early, without my input, that the Bible, especially the Old Testament, has a story-like quality to it that is ripe with violence.

My daughter, for instance asked me when she was 8 years old, why God seems prone to kill people so quickly. My son when he was 6 found it hard to swallow that a serpent talked in the Garden of Eden. I didn’t try to correct their impressions for fear of what God might think, but I tried to model a different tone, that I wasn’t sure myself, and that God knows we are going to ask some questions about the Bible and that makes God happy, not angry.

At the end of the day, the issue really isn’t in trusting the Bible (though I know what you mean), but trusting God whether or not they understand, or are even comfortable with, everything the Bible says. That is a great gift parent can cultivate in their children, as it will prepare them for adult life when they come to see that life does not play out according to a script, and that expecting the Bible to be an owner’s manual is unrealistic and spiritually unhealthy. And the real trick in all this is finding a community of faith that supports this kind of development.

* The title for this post was decided upon long before Randal Rauser’s podcast interview with Pete was published, so Rauser and I were both being clever independently!

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