Archive for theology
In this guest post LCC welcomes Matthew Gilliland, libertarian writer and speaker. He holds a J.D. from North Carolina Central University School of Law.
Jesus presents a considerable challenge to every believer in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5:
29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matt. 5:29-30, NRSV)
On its face, Jesus seems to be suggesting self-mutilation, but that is easily dismissed. Hands and eyes do not choose. They have no agency. They cannot cause you to stumble. Rather, these evils arise from the depths of the human soul, which the Bible calls the heart (Matt. 15:19). Thankfully, through grace we are saved from the duty of cutting out our hearts; Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection to new life has atoned for our sin, so instead we may repent and turn away from our sin and be forgiven. We are not permanently broken, and can be fixed through His grace and favor.
This realization, however, leads us to implications for this passage that can potentially be far more uncomfortable for our daily lives. We are not broken systems. Some systems, however, are broken. Some systems cannot be redeemed – their evil is inherent to them and cannot be excised.
As an example, take prostitution. The job requires fornication, which is sinful. One cannot go about the task of prostitution in a way that is consistent with Christianity, and so if a prostitute is or becomes a Christian, the Biblical prescription would be for him or her to tear that out of their life and throw it away. This is fairly uncontroversial.
But what of the soldier? Most Christians think of the military as an honorable job, and yet there has been no war in history in which a side did not do things that were both sanctioned or sinful. The funding mechanism for war, even in cases of defense against aggressors, is theft. “Collateral damage” is commonplace, and the Christian Right has been quick to justify killing – at least the killing of God’s Own U.S. Military – broadly and with little exception.
The clear conclusion is that this is a broken system. There is no cleansing available to something that involves sin as part of its design. There is no reform available to such institutions. Repentance requires a turning away from the sinful behavior, and in an institution that is built on the sin, that is not possible. This is the sense in which outside influences can “cause” one to stumble. One is still responsible for the choice of engaging with those influences, and turning away from them means cutting them out of one’s life. If your job necessarily causes you to stumble – even a high-paying, comfortable job, or a job others respect you for and think is honorable – tear it away from you.
This also applies to the State as a whole. As Nietzsche said, “The state lies in all the tongues of good and evil; and whatever it says it lies; and whatever it has it has stolen. Everything in it is false; it bites with stolen teeth, and bites often. It is false down to its bowels.” Christians can only serve one master, and in a choice between the State and Christ, one hopes the decision should be easy.
Many early Christians seem to have taken this view. Laurence Vance, in an excellent discussion of The Early Christian Attitude Towards War by C. John Cadoux, notes that the Didascalia (a collection of instructions for church leaders) cautioned against accepting money for the church from executioners, some politicians, killers, and “soldiers who behave unrightously.” Cadoux also cites, among others, the early theologians Tertullian and Origen, who believed military service to be incompatible with Christianity.
If we zoom out for a moment to get some perspective, we can see that this viewpoint is a more consistent application of Scripture to a world marred by sin. All Christians know that murder and theft are wrong. Libertarian Christians simply understand that this also applies to what others excuse as “preventive war” or “progressive taxation.”
That can be a hard truth to swallow.
Take a look at your life. Is any job, habit, or hobby you engage in something that you cannot do without sinning? Are you able to go to the bar without drinking to excess? Can you serve God while fulfilling your contract with your boss? If the answer is no, then cut that thing away from you. It doesn’t matter if it is a “normal” thing, like having a few extra drinks, or even something admired and glorified by society, such as being a cop, Marine, or politician. Look at it. Can you do that without sin?
Here is where the rubber meets the road. As Christians, we are responsible for what we know to be right and wrong. When we receive revelation that something you once thought was right is actually sinful (and this happens to the best of us!), we will have to choose. Will we go with what is easy, normal, and traditional, or will we follow Christ?
This passage is part of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is preaching something radical; he is taking the commands of the Torah, and reading into it something beyond a mere adherence to rules. Turning one’s cheek, loving one’s neighbor, and returning blessing for insult are not natural behaviors for sinful people. They require a true change of heart and a firm commitment to cling to Christ even when it isn’t comfortable.
If we heed this admonition, then we may be mocked by the world. Where evil is normal, a righteous man is really, really weird. We could even be accused of evil ourselves — those who have stood for peace have often been targets of those promoting war. If that happens, remember Jesus’ promise earlier in the chapter: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5:11-12)
One of the most historically popular (and interesting, in my opinion) articles on LCC has been my New Testament Theology of the State (in two parts, see part 2 here). The two-part article addresses some difficult passages from the gospels as well as Romans 13, and they tend to get significant attention since the interpretation presented is rather different from the mainstream and yet help the passages make better sense within the grander biblical context.
A few weeks ago, I received an email from the very active Instituto Ludwig von Mises Brazil asking if I would like to see these articles translated into Portuguese. I responded with an emphatic “Yes!” and they are now publicly available. So, if you have some Portuguese-speaking friends or relatives, perhaps they will find these to be interesting reads…
From what I have heard from my Brazilian contacts, the articles are already sparking some significant conversation on their website and social media pages – with over 2000 likes and well over 4000 page views in barely 2 days! If anything, this shows that people all across the world are eager for Christian libertarian ideas.
Looking for a great read to give that libertarian in your life this Christmas? Want to delve deep into something interesting over your Christmas vacation? Every year, I make it a point to highlight the best (in my opinion) recent and classic books about Christianity or libertarianism, and some books that address both at the same time. This year’s list really focuses on theology even more than liberty, but I can guarantee you will find great some great books for just about anyone here. And of course, you can find much more in LCC’s many other book lists, or in our little bookstore. Let the reading commence!
1. If You Are the Son of God by Jacques Ellul – If I were to recommend that you read one book this Christmas season, make it Ellul. This little 100-page book is immensely challenging on multiple levels. It will, of course, make you think deeply about your own theology (even if you disagree with some of it), but it will also reveal the corrupting influence of power within the world around us. I am personally giving this book to multiple friends and family this Christmas. Check out my review here.
2. For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty, edited by Anne Bradley and Art Lindsey – The Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics has released this edited volume as a response to the terrible policies promoted by some Christians that supposedly help the poor. Using sound economics and good theology, they make it clear that it is capitalism and voluntary charity, not government and force, that lifts the plight of the poor and promotes human flourishing. You will definitely see a review of this book on LCC in early 2015. Read More→
“Most of the Bible is a history told by people living in lands occupied by conquering superpowers. It is a book written from the underside of power. It’s an oppression narrative. The majority of the Bible was written by a minority people living under the rule and reign of massive, mighty empires, from the Egyptian Empire to the Babylonian Empire to the Persian Empire to the Assyrian Empire to the Roman Empire. This can make the Bible a very difficult book to understand if you are reading it as a citizen of the the most powerful empire the world has ever seen. Without careful study and reflection, and humility, it may even be possible to miss central themes of the Scriptures.”
Whether or not you like Rob Bell – I think he can be a mixed bag at times – you have to appreciate the insight of this quote regarding empire in Scripture. We frequently discount from our 21st century Western perspective just how dire things often are for the people of Scripture, and just how much they had to depend on God for providence and protection. We can thank God for how blessed we really are with the amazing operations of free market capitalism (NOT government!) and reflect upon how the Bible continues to speak to the oppressed today. Thanks for the tip, Bonnie and Rob!
LCC author Doug Douma is now an admin on the Gordon H. Clark Foundation website. Dr. Clark (1902-1985) was a prominent Calvinist philosopher as well as a supporter of libertarian political theory. Doug’s goals for the site include transcribing and posting unpublished articles from Dr. Clark’s personal papers. Although Dr. Clark wrote primarily in the area of epistemology (the philosophy of knowledge) he also wrote on topics of political science.
Of likely interest to LCC readers is the most recently posted unpublished article of Dr. Clark’s entitled Perspective on Natural Law.
Speaking of the advantage of a Christian basis for natural rights, Dr. Clark writes: “The idea of natural rights is not the kind of concept which has legs of its own to stand on; as a deduction from religious premises it makes sense, otherwise not.” Whether or not one agrees with Clark’s conclusion, one must agree that it is challenging and interesting to consider. Dr. Clark continues:
“The Natural Law concept is more than a tool for lawyers. It is an indispensable concept for the proponent of liberty and limited government and, as liberty comes to seem more precious and popular disillusionment with political panaceas become more acute, we may expect to see increasing reliance on the Natural Law philosophy as an indispensable means for achieving a sounder society, one more in harmony with the eternal verities and the accumulated wisdom of the race.”
Doug is also currently engaged in researching and writing Dr. Clark’s biography. Doug also recently spoke about Gordon Clark at the first annual Christians For Liberty Conference, and we will be posting his talk here as soon as it is available. We can all be very proud of Doug’s fervor for original research in theology and liberty, and LCC will continue to provide updates regarding his progress periodically.