Archive for theology
Many conservative and liberal Christians in America look upon immigrants very negatively. Despite the irrefutable evidence that immigrants – even illegal immigrants – do not “steal” American jobs, do not sap entitlements, and are a clear boon to the economy, we routinely hear how immigrants are categorically “bad.”
I am here to tell you that such an attitude is wrong on every level. Besides the economic and ethical arguments for why we should embrace open borders and oppose the state claiming more and more power to usurp freedom of movement, even God is on the side of the “alien”. We can see this throughout Scripture.
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.
This week I had the privilege of being on the Tom Woods Show to talk about Christian libertarianism, economics, ethics, a little theology, and the upcoming Christians for Liberty Conference 2014. Tom has been a good friend of mine ever since we met at Mises University in 2006, and he has always been a fan of the work of LibertarianChristians.com. I am so grateful to be his guest on the show; we had a wonderful time together.
Listen to the episode by clicking here.
When Tom posts the Youtube version, I’ll add it here as well. Here is the Youtube version. Enjoy!
This guest post is by Rev. Donald Ehrke. He is a Libertarian, a former GOP campaign manager, and ordained minister living in Alexandria, Virginia. Many thanks to Donald for his excellent work! For guest post opportunities, please use the LCC Contact Page.
Acts 20:35 is among the several Bible passages commonly recognized by Christians and non-Christians alike. Speaking in Ephesus the Apostle Paul argues, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Paul asserts that this is a teaching of Christ, and there can be little doubt that Paul’s claim is valid. When we are charitable we reflect the image of God, the greatest of all benefactors. While preaching the Sermon on the Mount Jesus urges listeners to “ask, seek, and knock, and it will be given” – God’s generosity is limitless. Seeking to emulate God, when we are benevolent we are also most blessed.
Benevolence is often cited as a mandate for state enforced wealth transfer; we are, under law, obligated to help those who are “less fortunate.” Some Christians accept this line of reasoning and, as a matter of course, support many types of entitlement programs. Others sense that compulsory wealth transfer is wrong but are hesitant – especially as Christians – to question this form of “charity” for fear of appearing hypocritical.
Scripture, however, does not describe charity as a compulsory act of the state; charity is the function of the individual benefactor. Consider, among many possible examples, Deuteronomy 15:4, “There will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess.” This does not suggest that every Israelite would be individually successful, but that the abundance of the land would permit individual charity. Only a few verses later we read, “If among you, one of your neighbors should become poor… you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8). These passages use personal pronouns – one of your neighbors, you will not harden your heart, you will open your hand to him – to suggest the personal nature of charity.
Even the collective charity demonstrated in Acts 4:32-37 was concurrently individual in nature. We read that “no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common” (v. 32). We might recall, however, that these early Christians were members of a voluntary association and that they were moved to give through grace (v. 33) not compulsion. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira as described in Acts 5 lay not in their refusal to sell their property for common consumption but in pretending as though they had given the full proceeds of the sale to the apostles.
Feigned charity is sinful; charity at no cost to the individual is not pleasing to God. Consider Nathan’s response to David’s acts of murder and infidelity. Nathan spoke a parable concerning a wealthy man who took a poor man’s lamb and prepared it for his guest as if it were his own. David was indignant, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he has done this thing, and because he had no pity” (2 Samuel 12:6). One cannot force another man’s charity.
There will be no poor among us today when we have become personally aware of another person’s need and have chosen to address it. Forcibly taking that which does not belong to us – regardless of how we choose to label the program – and presenting it to a third party is simply theft. More, such transactions destroy the relationship between benefactor and beneficiary. We are urged not to develop a hard heart toward the impoverished; when we give out of choice we do so out of grace for our neighbor. When we are coerced to assist, we detest the recipients because we have been victimized by thievery. Is it not intriguing that many Americans simultaneously claim support for public wealth transfer while attempting to reduce their tax liability?
Likewise, the beneficiary of public support loses the proper relationship with his or her benefactor. Regarding the assistance people might expect from strangers as they traveled we read, “If you go into your neighbor’s vineyard you may eat your fill of grapes, as many as you wish, but you shall not put any in your bag. If you go into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand, but you will not put a sickle to your neighbor’s standing grain” (Deuteronomy 23:24-25). There is a standard for charitable giving and for charitable taking. A traveler (dependent in ancient times on charity) could not take so much produce that the owner would suffer losses that might endanger his subsistence. A traveler could fill his stomach or hand, but no more – he recognized the personal nature of the charity he was receiving and was respectful of it. The beneficiary was, therefore, in the unique position of being generous to his benefactor. Additionally, if the beneficiary took too much produce, the benefactor would be unable to provide future assistance. Benefactor and beneficiary experienced a relationship of caring and respect.
To summarize, coerced wealth transfer removes the care a recipient would normally have for his benefactor. More, coerced wealth transfer encourages recipients to maximize their benefits as the benefactor must surrender his possessions out of compulsion rather than grace. Additionally, recipients are led to believe that their benefactor’s resources will never be exhausted. If resources are inexhaustible, the recipient has little incentive to change their behavior – this implies that the poor will always be among us. Perpetuating poverty is not charity, dependence is not compassion.
Giving is pleasing to God and Christians should be eager to help others. We can choose to assist both the poor and anyone experiencing need. We might also consider the biblical relationship that should exist between benefactor and beneficiary and how each is intended to profit from charity. It is not hypocritical to reject compulsory “giving” because obligatory charity through theft is itself hypocritical. Instead, Christians might choose to practice personal kindness and discover the satisfaction that comes with giving out of a generous heart. It is more blessed to choose to give than to be forced to hand over. It is more blessed to receive out of grace from a friend than to swipe from a stranger.
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;
(1 Timothy 2:1)
While driving recently on Maitland Boulevard in central Florida, I came upon a billboard with a simple message: “Pray for Our Troops.”
Although I am often very critical of the actions of U.S. troops, I do believe—in spite of what people may think—in prayer for our troops. This is because, as evidenced above, the Bible exhorts us to pray for all men, which includes U.S. troops.
The problem is not the idea of praying for the troops, but the usual prayers that are offered on their behalf. When the typical church-going, prayer-saying American Christian sees such a billboard or is enjoined in church to pray for our troops, he generally thinks:
- Pray that our troops be kept out of harm’s way.
- Pray that our troops defeat our enemies.
- Pray that our troops defend our freedoms.
- Pray that our troops keep us safe.
- Pray that our troops find terrorists who want to do us harm.
- Pray that our troops eliminate the threat of al Qaeda.
- Pray that our troops rid the world of weapons of mass destruction.
- Pray that our troops spread democracy and freedom.
- Pray that our troops avenge 9/11.
Some Christians, if they were honest, would pray that our troops’ bombs, bullets, grenades, missiles, and mortars hit their targets. Or if they were really honest, a war prayer for the twenty-first century.
The problem with these prayers is that no thought is ever given to:
- Where our troops go.
- Why our troops go.
- Whether our troops should go.
- How long our troops should stay.
- What our troops do when they are there.
- How much it costs to keep our troops there.
- How many innocent foreigners die because our troops went.
- What physical and mental condition our troops will be in when they return.
- Whether our troops are really defending our freedom.
- Whether our troops are creating more terrorists because they went.
- Whether our troops are actually a global force for good.
- Whether whatever our troops accomplish is worth one drop of American blood.
None of these things matter. We are continually told to pray for the troops, thank the troops, and support the troops—and to do so unconditionally.
But because I have considered these questions about the activities of our troops, and pay attention to what really goes on in the military, I think we should instead:
- Pray that our troops come home from overseas.
- Pray that our troops stop fighting foreign wars.
- Pray that our troops don’t kill foreign civilians.
- Pray that our troops don’t rape foreign women.
- Pray that our troops stop invading countries.
- Pray that our troops stop occupying countries.
- Pray that our troops get out of the military as soon as they can.
- Pray that our troops don’t fire their weapons.
- Pray that our troops don’t sexually assault military personnel.
- Pray that our troops don’t frequent brothels.
- Pray that our troops don’t commit suicide.
- Pray that our troops don’t get addicted to drugs.
- Pray that our troops stop helping to carry out an evil U.S. foreign policy.
- Pray that our troops stop making drone strikes.
- Pray that our troops stop making widows and orphans.
- Pray that our troops are only used for genuinely defensive purposes.
- Pray that our troops stop intervening in other countries.
- Pray that our troops don’t die for a lie, like those who died fighting in Iraq.
- Pray that our troops don’t die in vain, like those who died fighting in Afghanistan.
- Pray that our troops think about the morality of their “service.”
- Pray that our troops refuse to obey immoral orders.
- Pray that our troops never become troops by saying no to the military recruiter.
One does not have to be religious to see that these prayers are noticeably different from the previous ones. Think about this the next time you see a billboard or church sign that says “Pray for Our Troops.”
Originally published on LewRockwell.com.