The Libertarian Christian Institute has been asked to promote the Forbes Under 30 $1 Million Change the World Competition. Here's why you might be interested: They are seeking young entrepreneurs with organizations where faith is reflected in their services and impact.…
If you missed Jeff Wright’s recent guest post, go read it now. Jeff has written a must-read essay on the spiritual effects of political engagement. He engages the danger in thoughtlessly using the word “we” in political conversations and identifies the often damaging “us versus them” mentality in the world of politics. He naturally connects what it means to be Christian and libertarian.
I want to follow-up his essay with a few of my own thoughts regarding spiritual formation. In recent years I have been influenced by Christian contemplatives who have connected with God on a formative level through the spiritual disciplines (e.g. prayer, fasting, meditation). One of the recurring themes within contemplative Christianity is what Richard Rohr calls growing into non-dual thinking. That is, treating life’s complexities in more than binary ways. Asking the question, “Is this good or bad?” is only helpful in the early stages of spiritual formation. The question itself is trapped in legalism. Non-dual thinking means evaluating a solution to a problem by considering how our psyche, our soul, our hearts are affected by such a solution. One way to put it is, “What is this doing to me/us?” To be sure, the good/bad question is not useless, but it is ill-equipped to respond lastingly to deeply rooted problems. Deeper reflection is required for lifelong spiritual formation, both for individuals and for societies.
One of the greatest attributes of libertarianism is its focus on the notions of power and control, especially in the hands of the state. Libertarians do not entirely oppose institutions that can justly govern specified areas of responsibility. But when a governing institution takes on a life of its own and dominates those under its purview, we libertarians rally quickly to condemn it. We are known for rejecting top-down, centralized governments because those who hold the reigns nearly always use their status to their own advantage. The concentration of power in the hands of a few is dangerous business. Greed is even more of a problem for those at the top of government than it is for those at the top of private firms, because in politics greed can masquerade as good intentions.
Michael Hardin, a theologian friend of mine, wrote an article outlining the dangers of power due to a misunderstanding of the kind of power God favors. “‘Power’ is one of those slippery words that gets tossed to an fro without examination,” he writes. Hardin, as an expert in Rene Girard’s mimetic theory, is well-equipped to write about how the New Testament deals with power dynamics. Hardin addresses how Charismatic Christianity understands the notion of power, his remarks will seem familiar to libertarians and will parallel our observations about the State.
Christians throughout the centuries have always communicated the good news of the Kingdom of God in the vernacular of their surrounding culture. They have engaged those around them by making use of their culture’s shared experiences so that the gospel is heard in a way they will understand. To be effective means to infiltrate and influence society so that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Those who communicate the gospel effectively are agents of change in the world. One of the challenges for Christians is to avoid letting a culture’s influence dilute the message of the Kingdom of God so as to become ineffective or irrelevant.
The constantly evolving nature of cultures and the inescapable reality of a global pluralist society have become major challenges to the Church in the West, and to Protestantism in particular. The past century has witnessed an unprecedented rate in the change of cultural motifs and the increasing accessibility to these diverse cultures from the foreigner. In centuries past only the wealthy could explore the far regions of the world. Today even the poor can spend a few hours on the Internet to glimpse a foreign cultural experience.
To meet the challenges of a changing global community, a new generation of Christians are diverging from the standard political, social, and theological views they inherited. Although this movement involves the global Christian Church, my experience has been largely within the evangelical community, a relatively recent phenomenon within Christianity’s twenty-century lifespan. Cultural shifts are always a mixed bag, but it is prudent to notice the promise such shifts provide as well as the challenges.
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.