Archive for politics
The Independent Institute recently hosted a special seminar with Dr. Ron Paul to talk about the future of freedom in America. He spoke of America’s “increasingly dysfunctional political system” and the need to curtail dramatically the power of the state. From their event announcement:
The author of numerous #1 New York Times bestselling books, Dr. Paul is a leading advocate for individual liberty, privacy, limited constitutional government, low taxes and spending, free markets, restrained foreign policy, and sound money. The New York Post has called him a man who “cannot be bought by special interests. There are few people in public life who, through thick and thin, rain or shine, stick to their principles.” And, Judge Andrew Napolitano calls him “The Thomas Jefferson of our day.”
Theology, liberty, and economics are my favorite topics to study, debate, or teach, especially when they happen to intersect with each other. When my former professor Peter Enns, who is on the front lines of a debate over the nature of Scripture, wrote about the relationship between inerrancy and Romans 13 (arguably the most disputed text about government among libertarians), naturally I wanted to talk about it. It would be best if I set some of my cards on the table before commenting.* I believe Enns has clearly articulated the problems with the evangelical doctrine of the inerrancy of the Bible. Not only has he demonstrated that a strict inerrantist position is highly problematic when reading the Bible, he has also examined the viability of revising or reformulating the doctrine to make it meaningful to contemporary society. In doing so, Enns is committed to a “high view” of Scripture because he approaches the biblical text by expecting no more or no less than what God intended to communicate. Those who believe in inerrancy usually state the doctrine as follows: “The Bible is without error in all that it affirms or teaches.” (See here for a more thorough statement.) The clause “in all that it affirms or teaches” is significant because it is one way to avoid having to believe such absurdities that the earth is flat or at the center of the universe. Inerrantists claim that the Bible doesn’t teach the earth is flat or that the earth is the center of the universe because those passages that seem to say so simply mean something else. Almost every Christian agrees with this. Not all Christians, however, believe that Genesis 1 teaches how the earth was created. Those who do not simply believe that Genesis 1 is in the Bible to serve a different purpose. This is why “in all that it affirms or teaches” is only helpful to a point. It merely pushes the debate into the question, “How do we know when the Bible affirms or teaches something?” Even this question is problematic, because the Bible is not the acting agent, but the tool through which God’s Spirit guides the people of God to embrace and participate in God’s mission in the world. In short, it is God who is speaking. Practically speaking, the phrase “the Bible says” is shorthand for “this is what God says.” It is not always abundantly clear what God affirms or teaches in the Bible. It is clear Jesus wants us to forgive our enemies. It is clear that Paul’s slur against Cretans is not to be mimicked. But does God enjoy smashing babies against rocks? Are we to be as pessimistic as Qohelet in Ecclesiastes? Are libertarians to read Romans 13 as a clear and unwavering affirmation of obeying governmental authorities? It is not an easy task to figure out what God teaches when we read the Bible. This apparently self-evident teaching in Romans 13 is why many libertarians are minarchists. Any plain reading of Romans 13 leaves very little reason to believe that Paul wants Christians to obey the government. He ignores the opportunity to add an escape clause, expiration date, or exception to “corrupt powers.” God is clear because Paul is clear. There should be no debate, right? Yet the debate continues, with a plethora of articles (see a list below) about how Paul is not teaching in Romans 13 that God endorses all governments. A faithful interpretation of what Paul intended with Romans 13 means we must investigate the context in which it was written. It also means using extra-biblical sources to factor in all that a passage means. It is at this point that the doctrine of inerrancy relates to Romans 13. Inerrantists claim they do not bring to the text extra-biblical factors regarding its meaning because they believe in sola scriptura. Yet any honest interpreter must admit that all readers, of course, do this, even to a minimal degree. Here is Enns on the problem:
The truth is, I don’t know many Christians who take Paul at his word here. They may try to deftly extract themselves by saying that Paul is merely giving an ideal principle, or that only legitimate authorities are instituted by God. But again, that’s just “adding” something to God’s word, which clearly makes a pretty cut and dried case for human governmental authorities as instituted by God. But a proper understanding of these words of Paul’s, as with most other things in Scripture, requires some sensitivity to their historical/cultural or literary context (or both).
For libertarians who are wary of any semblance of authoritarianism or totalitarianism, Romans 13 is a problematic text, especially if one holds to a literalist and inerrant view of the Bible (after all, Paul wrote this while Rome had a tyrant for an emperor!). Inerrantists are only comfortable with so much “wiggle room” to use extra-biblical sources to discern that a passage does not really mean what a plain reading would yield. Enns’s solution? “There’s more to reading the Bible faithfully than just doing what it says, no matter of clearly it seems to be telling us what to do.” Norman Horn’s words are apt here: “A theology of the state does not begin and end with Romans 13.” Below are some articles that deal directly with Romans 13. Not all authors are libertarians, but all explore Romans 13 beyond a “plain reading.” As you explore them, evaluate whether or not the author’s approach could fit within the inerrancy position, or whether their bringing extra-biblical factors to the table goes too far. It is because all Christians recognize that none of us approach the Bible without knowledge from outside sources that leads Enns and me to conclude that “at the end of the day…definitions of inerrancy seem less and less convincing.”
- Why do you have such a pessimistic view of government?
- Romans Chapter 13 by Chuck Baldwin
- Against Empire: A Yoderian Reading of Romans
- Does ‘Romans 13′ Oppose Liberty?
- Romans 13 and Anarcho-Capitalism
- Hitler’s Favorite Bible Verse
- Romans 13 and National Defense
- The Bible, Government and Christian Anarchy
- Romans 13 and the Right To Bear Arms
- More Indictment of the Mistranslated Romans 13
- New Testament Theology of the State, Part 1
- Theology doesn’t begin and end with Romans 13
- Stanley Hauerwas on Romans 13
- Duke University Divinity professor Stanley Hauerwas on nonviolence, Iraq, and killing Hitler.
- The state and Christian obedience: John Howard Yoder on Romans 13
- Romans 13 supports pacifism!
- Reading Romans 13 with John Howard Yoder (Again)
* My own beliefs align similarly to his, but let me offer a word of caution to those who will explore what Enns believes. There is a plethora of interviews, articles, and books to which Enns has contributed. It is not possible to spend 10-20 minutes getting the “gist” of his beliefs on the Bible without misunderstanding his position. It is far too easy to infer too much from what is being said without really hearing an argument out to its full extent.
Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy, by Robert Sirico (Regnery Publishing, 2012), 213 pages.
Critics of the free market assert that it fails the underprivileged, leads to income inequality, exploits the poor, and is at times downright cruel. They charge its defenders with being motivated by greed, selfishness, and materialism, and making a god out of efficiency. The solution to the alleged deficiencies of the free market and the character of its supporters is always without exception government intervention in the marketplace. But when that fails to remedy the perceived wrongs of the free market, then even more intervention is prescribed to make things right. And as Richman’s Law states, “No matter how much the government controls the economic system, any problem will be blamed on whatever small zone of freedom that remains.”
The Rev. Robert Sirico, in his book Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy, argues that a free economy — where property rights, contracts, and the rule of law are respected; prices and interest rates are freely agreed to by willing parties; entrepreneurship is encouraged; profit is not disdained; and charity is voluntary — is the most efficient and moral way to meet society’s material needs. Read More→
Last week, I was interviewed on Al Jazeera America’s “Inside Story” show, for a segment about millennials looking to change large institutions. Two other fine young people joined the show as well, Erica Williams of EWS Strategies and entrepreneur Ben Berkowitz of SeeClickFix.com. I had the opportunity to talk about millennials in the church, especially with regards to interactions with government. At first, I thought we would be talking extensively about the government shutdown (which had just ended) and I had prepared a lot of material for just that subject. However, I found out three minutes before filming that we were really going to be talking about the millennials changing large institutions again. So, even though I started a little slow, I think I communicated some good messages about the church and liberty through the segment.
It is rather difficult to find any clips from the show due to AJAM not releasing much online at this time, but I was able to find a Youtube video for the entire show. Hopefully a few of you can watch it before it gets taken down. Perhaps at a later date I’ll find better videos for you. Apologies in advance for the shakiness and excess noise, but what can you do. (Videos after the jump.) Read More→
A friend relayed to me a remarkable quote from a recent sermon at his congregation:
“And if I thought that you could substantially change human behavior by laws then I might think about becoming a politician, but I have zero faith in politics to actually change the greatest problems on this planet because you can make all the laws in the world but that would not change the human heart. You could make a law that outlaws racism. You could make a law that says ‘Don’t be racist’, but no law is going to turn a racist heart into a heart that loves all people. The only person who can do that is God. Only God can do that. God has got to change the human heart. In John 8:31-32 Jesus says ‘If you hold to my teaching you are really my disciples then you will know the truth and truth will set you free’.”
I firmly believe that if churches are to become more liberty-minded and opposed to the violence of statism, the best thing that could happen would be for ministers to lead the way. As it becomes more apparent that the State is not the kingdom of God and is in fact among the greatest threats to the church worldwide, I hope we’ll begin to see more ministers and Bible class leaders being this bold.