Review of Wayne Grudem, Politics – According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture (Zondervan, 2010), 619 pgs., hardcover, $39.99.
I remember back in the mid 1990s when I was teaching theology and Zondervan published Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. I thought it was a good book, and now see that it has sold over 300,000 copies. Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw that the author recently wrote an equally massive book on politics. It is not everyday when a theologian is found to have such a different field of interest and, in the case of Grudem, expertise.
As I have mentioned in some of my other reviews of Christian books (see here, here, here, here, and here), because one of my primary interests is the intersection of religion with politics and economics, I try to read and possibly review any books on these subjects. Although I am usually disappointed, Politics – According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture (hereafter just Politics – According to the Bible), although it has much to disappoint, and much I vehemently disagree with, is still an important and needful work that I can recommend to Christians interested in religion and politics, albeit with many caveats.
Wayne Grudem is Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary in Arizona. He was formerly Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois. Grudem holds degrees from Harvard, Westminster Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Cambridge. He has served as president of the Evangelical Theological Society.
The book is very well written and organized. Grudem divides the book into three parts: Basic Principles (5 chapters), Specific Issues (10 chapters), and Concluding Observations (3 chapters). There is a brief preface and introduction, a very detailed table of contents, clear chapter divisions, footnotes, and Scripture, name, and subject indexes.
The author’s approach to the issues he discusses is threefold: arguments from direct biblical statements, arguments from broader biblical principles, and arguments that do not depend on the Bible but on an evaluation of the relevant facts in the world today.
Grudem is a conservative and a Republican, makes no apologies for it, and doesn’t try to hide it. But although he claims in his preface to “not hesitate to criticize Republican policies” where he differs with them and gives as examples “runaway government spending” and “the continual expansion of the federal government” under conservative Republican presidents, the book is long on criticism of Democrats and liberals (with one direct, negative mention of libertarianism [p. 275], although it is not in the index), and short on criticism of Republicans and conservatives.
Grudem’s whipping boys are President Barack Obama, Jim Wallis, the author of God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It, and, to a lesser extent, Greg Boyd, the author of The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church.
Boyd has written what I think is a good book criticizing Christian nationalism and warmongering, although I don’t necessarily agree with everything in it. Wallis is a liberal Christian that I rarely agree with either. I also share Grudem’s aversion to the Marxist, socialist, fascist, corporatist abomination that is Obama. In other words, I feel about him the same way as I feel about George W. Bush.
Bush should go down in history as one of the worst presidents ever. He gave us the No Child Left Behind Act, expanded Medicare with a prescription-drug program, started two immoral and senseless wars, justified perpetual incarceration, torture, and innumerable other violations of civil liberties and human rights. He had bailout and stimulus programs before Obama did. He crippled corporations with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, destroyed the Fourth Amendment with the Patriot Act, waged war on the Bill of Rights, created the monstrous Department of Homeland Security with its groping TSA goons, and increased farm subsidies and foreign aid. Bush and the Republicans used the federal treasury as an ATM, doubling the national debt, massively increasing government spending, and giving us the first trillion-dollar budget deficit.
Although Bush is mentioned many times in the book, there is only one negative thing said about “George W. Bush’s administration” (p. 573). It is in the Concluding Observations section, and it is just basically a restatement of what Grudem said in the preface that I quoted above about the increase in government spending that occurred “when Republicans had majorities in both the House and the Senate.” Taken together, both of these statements imply that there is some criticism of Republicans in the pages between them. But all you will see is some faint criticism of Republicans on pages 274 (a quote from someone else about government debt), 313 (some Republicans opposing change because they are fearful of losing re-election), and 489 (wealthy members of Congress). The only significant criticism of Republicans is on page 474 where Grudem says he is astounded “that anyone in either party, whether Democrat or Republican, would oppose having Congress and the President take the necessary steps to complete a secure and impenetrable border fence immediately.” Later in his Concluding Observations section, Grudem reluctantly admits that “President Reagan, a Republican, supported some reduction of the US nuclear arsenal” (p. 582), condemns “hyper-conservative people who have opposed any elements of a plan that would allow any path to citizenship whatsoever for the illegal aliens who are now here in the United States” (p. 584), and criticizes John McCain for being an opponent of “coercive interrogation methods” (p. 582) and a prominent supporter of campaign finance restrictions (p. 585).
As mentioned previously, the book is divided into three parts. The first section, Basic Principles, actually consists of four distinct elements: what Grudem considers to be five wrong views about Christians and government followed by his “better solution,” biblical principles concerning government, a biblical worldview, and the court system as the ultimate power in a nation. The second and most important part of the book is the Specific Issues section. Although there are ten chapters here, there are actually about fifty topics that are discussed, from things one would expect like abortion and private property, to unexpected topics like farm subsidies and CAFE standards. The third division of the book, Concluding Observations, has three unrelated chapters, two of which depart from the stated purpose of the book.
Grudem starts out with his five wrong views about Christians and government: “government should compel religion,” “government should exclude religion,” “all government is evil and demonic,” “do evangelism, not politics,” and “do politics, not evangelism.” The problems with the first two and the last one are obvious, but I think Grudem errs in his treatment of the other two.
In his discussion of “all government is evil and demonic,” Grudem is mainly arguing against Greg Boyd and his The Myth of a Christian Nation. Grudem takes issue with Boyd’s reference to Jesus’ encounter with Satan when he was fasting in the wilderness, specifically this:
And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time,
And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it.
If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine. (Luke 4:5-7)
Grudem says Boyd is wrong in pointing out that Jesus “doesn’t dispute the Devil’s claim” because Satan is lying, because “there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44). I think the point here is that Satan was offering Christ the kingdoms of the world now, without the Cross, which was not in the plan of God. Christ later said that his kingdom was not now of this world (John 18:36), although it will be in the future (2 Timothy 4:1). Christ three times refers to the devil as “the prince of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11) – the “present evil world” (Galatians 1:4) that “lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19). It could be argued that the devil had this position by usurpation and permission (see Job 1 & 2; Daniel 2:21, 4:25; John 19:11), but he had it nevertheless.
In taking issue with Boyd’s pacifism (which I don’t necessarily agree with), Grudem makes some statements that show where he will go later in the book on the subject of national defense (chap. 11). He reasons that taking the view that “all government is demonic” (how else could you describe the current U.S. government?) “would mean less and less support for a strong military” that could “oppose evil aggressors anywhere in the world” (p. 43). He is concerned about “aggressive nations who would attack us and our allies,” blind to the fact that the United States has the most aggressive foreign policy of any country and is the only country currently engaged in foreign wars half way around the world. Naturally, like all apologists for U.S. wars, he is compelled to mention Munich and appeasement, as if that someone justifies the aggressive foreign policy of the United States. (On Munich, see my review of “Buchanan’s Necessary Book.”)
In arguing against “do evangelism, not politics,” Grudem seems to equate Christians not using political means to transform society with not preaching and teaching the whole counsel of God and not seeking to be a good influence on society. He is arguing here against a straw man. And I think he is incorrect in more than one respect when he says that “God gave both the church and the government to restrain evil in this age” (p. 48). The real purpose of government, as my friend Tom DiLorenzo has said, is for those who run it to plunder those who do not.
I have no argument with Grudem’s “better solution” to what he considers to be wrong views of Christians and government of “Christian influence on government.” I wholeheartedly concur that “the responsibility of pastors is to give wise biblical teaching, explaining exactly how the teachings of the Bible apply to various specific situations in life, and that should certainly include instruction about some political matters in government and politics” (p. 62). On the subject of Prohibition, Grudem makes the good point that “it is impossible to enforce moral standards on a population when those moral standards are more strict than the standards found in the Bible itself” (pgs. 63-64).
The one problem I see with Grudem’s “better solution” is that it includes voting. Although I think he wisely says that he doesn’t think Christians should only vote for Christian candidates or generally prefer an evangelical candidate over a non-evangelical one (Grudem’s endorsement of Mitt Romney in 2007 over Mike Huckabee proves his sincerity), he believes that Christians have an obligation to vote. And not only vote, but to do something else like “giving money or giving time to support specific candidates and issues,” “writing letters or helping to distribute literature,” or “running for office or volunteering to serve in the military” (p. 75). I think rather that Christians would do better to give their money and time to churches and charity work instead of politicians and political parties, distribute religious literature instead of political literature, and run for a church office instead of a political office. And above all, stay out of the military. We are only in chapter two, and once again Grudem’s admiration for the military shines through. He also mentions here the canard of U.S. soldiers dying for our freedoms, including in that number those who were duped to go to Iraq and Afghanistan. One can already see that we are going to have a tough time getting through his chapter on national defense.
In the third chapter of the Basic Principles section, Grudem gives us his biblical principles concerning government. Here we find mostly good, but sometimes a mixed bag. He recognizes that “governments too often attempt to restrict human liberty in ways that are much more extensive and intrusive and that prohibit not only the doing of things that are clearly evil, but also doing things that are morally neutral or good but not favored by the government” and that “every incremental increase in governmental regulation of life is also an incremental removal of some measure of human liberty” (p. 94), but then defends the current airport security system that views all travelers as criminals and expresses support for a federal court decision that prohibited a religious group from using marijuana.
Another example is on the subject of taxes. Grudem mentions how taxes result in lost liberty and freedom and rob people of huge portions of their lives. But he speaks favorably of “tax-supported playgrounds and parks where families can picnic and sports teams can practice and compete” (p. 80). We will see the same thing in his section on taxes in the chapter on economics (chap. 9).
Grudem makes a distinction between “blind patriotism” and “genuine patriotism” (p. 109), and makes some good biblical points about the necessity of sometimes disobeying the government, but does not seem to sufficiently recognize a distinction between a country and its government.
To finish out the Basic Principles section, Grudem has chapter on “a biblical worldview” that is straightforward enough. However, his final chapter on “the courts and the question of ultimate power in a nation,” while it contains much good information, concludes with the admonition to vote Republican as “the best way – in fact, the only way known to me – to bring about a change and break the rule of unaccountable judges over our society” (p. 154). Grudem is under the delusion that Republicans generally support “‘originalist’ judges and justices who will rule according to the original meaning of the Constitution.” I guess that’s why Senator John McCain voted to confirm to the Supreme Court the liberal, pro-choice justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and David Souter. It is also delusional to say that justices Alito, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas “consistently” rule “according to the original meaning of the Constitution” (p. 151). Just look at the case of Gonzales v. Raich (2005) where Scalia voted with the “liberal” majority while Thomas wrote a blistering dissent that charged the majority with making a mockery of the Constitution. And on the federal appeals court level, in the case of Seven-Sky & American Center for Law and Justice v. Holder, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals just recently ruled that the Obamacare “individual mandate” was constitutional. The opinion was written by Reagan appointee Laurence Silberman. (On the legal challenges to Obamacare, see my “The Supreme Court and Obamacare.”)
The meat of Politics – According to the Bible is the Specific Issues section. Each of the ten chapters discusses from four to eleven topics. The best chapter is the one on The Environment; the worst is the one on National Defense. Although Grudem covers about fifty topics, I think some important ones are missing; e.g., civil liberties and the war on drugs.
The Protection of Life
The chapter on The Protection of Life includes the topics of abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, and self-defense and ownership of guns. Obviously, Grudem, as a conservative Republican, is an opponent of abortion, and states his case quite well, but I take issue with his statement that “every vote for every Democratic candidate for President or Congress undeniably has the effect of continuing to protect 1,000,000 abortions per year in the United States” (p. 177). Earlier in the section on abortion, Grudem says that no government money should be given to pro-abortion groups like Planned Parenthood. But just look at who has been funding Planned Parenthood. This is a blog post I did on April 28, 2010:
I have seen it reported in several places that Planned Parenthood, one of the world’s leading abortion providers, received government grants and contracts of $350 million for fiscal year 2007-2008 and $337 million for fiscal year 2006-2007. I verified this information for myself on the Planned Parenthood website. I also discovered that Planned Parenthood’s fiscal year ends on June 30. This means that Bush the Republican was the president during this time. But after doing a little digging, I also found out that Planned Parenthood received government grants and contracts of $305 million (34%) during fiscal year 2005-2006. During this time we not only had Bush the Republican president but also a Republican majority in Congress. Yet, Planned Parenthood was still funded. And we are supposed to take Republicans seriously when they complain that Obama isn’t likely to appoint an anti-abortion judge to the Supreme Court? Why wasn’t the Republican Party that concerned about abortion when clinics affiliated with Planned Parenthood performed 264,943 abortions in 2005?
Although I agree with Grudem on his biblical defense of capital punishment, I think he exceeds the biblical mandate when he says that he thinks “that capital punishment should be the penalty for some other crimes that were intended to or actually did lead to the death of other people” (p. 192). In his otherwise good discussion of gun control, I think he compromises when he says the government should be able to place reasonable restrictions on gun ownership including “the prohibition of private ownership of certain types of weapons not needed for personal self-defense” (p. 211).
In his chapter on marriage, Grudem shines except for his insistence that “only a civil government is able to define a standard of what constitutes a marriage for a whole nation of whole society” (p. 222). Marriage preceded the state, and does not need the state’s oversight. Furthermore, I think Grudem greatly overstates his case:
Without a governmentally established standard of what constitutes marriage, the result will be a proliferation of children born in relationships of incest and polygamy as well as in many temporary relationships without commitment, and many children born with no one having a legal obligation to care for them (p. 222).
Taking these in reverse order, a child’s parents have the legal obligation to care for it whether they are married or not, there are many children born now as a result of temporary relationships without commitment, and it is ludicrous to think that it is only state oversight of marriage that keeps people from incest and polygamy. This is akin to the drug warrior implying that everyone would be on drugs if all drug prohibitions were lifted.
Grudem unfortunately provides the wrong information on which states have legalized same-sex marriage. In a book the size of Politics – According to the Bible, it is understandable that has to be written over a long period of time. However, every attempt should be made to have facts and figures up-to-date by the time the book is published. We are told on page 229 that three states – Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont – have passed laws legalizing same-sex marriage, but that the voters in Maine overruled the legislature and governor. This leaves two states where same-sex marriage is legal. But on page 596, Grudem tells us that there are four states where same-sex marriage is legal: Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire. Both of these are wrong. The date Grudem gives at the end of his preface is February 2010. On page 395 he mentions that he is writing in early 2010. Five states plus the District of Columbia legalized same-sex marriage before the book was published. And since Grudem mentions in one place the latest state to do so – New Hampshire on January 1, 2010 – there is no excuse for the other states and the District of Columbia not being mentioned.
Grudem makes a good point when he says that if the majority of society decides to grant domestic partner benefits, “they should not be limited to homosexual domestic partners, but should apply to all people living together in long-term relationships where there is mutual commitment and obligation to care and support each other” (p. 234).
On the topic of pornography, Grudem begins well: “The fact that something is morally wrong according to the Bible does not by itself mean that governments should have laws against it” (p. 242). Yet, he makes a distinction between laws against looking at pornographic material (he opposes them) and laws against the production, distribution, and sale of pornography (he supports them).
This brief chapter includes a discussion of educational vouchers. Although Grudem believes that “parents, not the government, should have the freedom to decide how best to educate their children” (p. 248), he believes, unfortunately, that this freedom includes the use of other people’s money to pay for their decision. Grudem wants to see “a system of school vouchers provided by the local government to pay for the education of children in each family” (p. 250). To the objection that parents could use vouchers to send their children to church-related schools, he says, correctly: “The First Amendment was only intended to prohibit the governmental establishment of one certain church or religion as the official state church. It was never intended to prevent all government support for everything that is done by a church.” But this does not mean that the government should support anything done by a church. What we need, of course, is a complete separation of school from state, not a continuation of it through a voucher system. (See my articles on vouchers here, here, and here.) But as to whether “governments should encourage married couples to bear and raise children” (p. 245), the government should neither encourage nor discourage this decision.
Overall, this is a very good chapter. Grudem defends free markets, personal liberty, limited government, and property rights while disparaging government regulation, progressive taxation, the “fair tax,” and income redistribution. My favorites:
- Every increase in taxes takes away that much more human freedom (p. 286).
- Governments all over the world are notorious for waste and inefficiency (p. 286).
- Higher taxes on corporations are just passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices (p. 289).
- A strong argument can be made that the capital gains tax should be completely abolished (p. 291).
- I can see no justification in the Bible for a “progressive” tax rate (p. 292).
- When taxpayers are allowed to keep more of their own money, there is an increase in the amount of personal liberty in society (p. 300).
- Property belongs to individuals, not to society and not to the government (p. 301).
- My conclusion is that the estate tax should be permanently repealed (p. 309).
But in typical Republican fashion, Grudem compromises, and sometimes a great deal. Note carefully the downward progression (emphasis mine):
- Government is never an efficient provider of economic goods (p. 313).
- It is difficult to think of any goods or services that a government might produce that could not be produced better by private companies (p. 285).
- The free market is almost always a better way of solving an economic problem than government ownership or control (p. 275).
- Some services and products needed by the entire society are best provided by government (p. 285).
Therefore, “government should establish and maintain an effective money supply for a nation” (p. 271), “it is necessary for governments to impose some health and safety standards on the sale of medicines and foods or other products such as bicycles and cars” (p. 274), some government regulation is necessary “to prevent wrongdoing such as theft, fraud, and breaking of contracts (p. 276), “there is some need for government-supported welfare programs to help cases of urgent need (for example, to provide a ‘safety net’ to keep people from going hungry or without clothing or shelter)” (p. 281), “it is appropriate for government to provide enough funding so that everyone is able to gain enough skills and education to earn a living” (p. 281), the government should enable “every citizen to live adequately in the society” (p. 281), “there is nothing wrong with the original idea behind Social Security” (p. 312), and “some provision should be made to care for those who truly cannot afford medical insurance” (p. 315).
So, lest there be any misunderstanding about Grudem’s compassionate conservatism:
I want to reaffirm that I believe that it is right that government provide some kind of guarantee of support for those who are genuinely no longer able to work due to old age, disability, or involuntary unemployment. And it would of course make sense to provide provisions for partial benefits to be paid to people who wanted to take semi-retirement and then ease gradually into full retirement (p. 312).
It would make more sense to follow the Constitution, which Grudem says is the highest government authority (p. 153), and that authorizes no such provisions.
It is unfortunate that in this chapter Grudem perverts Matthew 22:17 in maintaining that “Jesus thus endorsed the legitimacy of paying taxes to a civil government” (p. 285) and Romans 13:4 in saying that “governments should do ‘good’ for people.” (On the former see Jeffrey Barr on “Render unto Caesar“; on the later see my recent analysis of another perversion of Romans 13.)
As mentioned previously, this is Grudem’s best chapter in the Specific Issues section. “It is not wrong in principle, as many environmentalists think it is, for human beings to modify the world” (p. 323), says Grudem. Man was placed on the earth to subdue it and have dominion over it (Genesis 1:28). Grudem demolishes environmentalist wacko claims about global warming, and perceptively sees the issue as a controversy over human liberty versus government control:
If the government can dictate how far you drive your car, how much you heat or cool your home, how much you will use electric lights or computers or a TV, how much energy your factory can use, and how much jet fuel you can have to fly an airplane, then it can control most of the society (p. 380).
Grudem makes the case that there is no good reason to think we will ever run out of any essential natural resource. To this end, he examines data regarding population, land, water, clean air, waste disposal, forests, species loss, pesticides, and life expectancy, and discusses energy sources. I also like his heroic defense of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
All good things must come to an end. Grudem’s chapter on National Defense is typical Republican and conservative pro-war and pro-military claptrap.
No one would have an argument with one of Grudem’s opening statements:
Now, if a government is commanded by God to protect its citizens from the robber or thief who comes from within a country, then certainly it also has an obligation to protect its citizens against thousands of murderers or thieves who come as an army from somewhere outside of the nation. Therefore a nation has a moral obligation to defend itself against foreign attackers who would come to kill and conquer and subjugate the people in a nation (p. 388).
He also says later: “No nation has the right ever to use military power simply to conquer other nations or impose their ideas of social good on another nation” (p. 394). But all of this goes by the wayside when Grudem says: “I believe that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were just wars” (p. 414). And especially when he says: “The war in Iraq was a necessary, strategic, and highly significant step in defending the United States against radical Islamic terrorism” (p. 417).
But that’s not all, Grudem, in typical warmongering, interventionist Republican fashion, defends coercive interrogation techniques (he justifies this on the basis of biblical admonitions to discipline children), John Yoo, George W. Bush, the atomic bombing of Japan, the FBI, the CIA (we should “be thankful” for it), NATO, more weapons, missile defense, bigger military budgets, the war on terror, waterboarding (“this procedure does not seem to me to be inherently morally wrong”), and warrantless wiretapping.
Grudem singles out Congressman Ron Paul for his noninterventionist views (p. 398-399). He calls his understanding of foreign policy “deeply flawed.” His criticism of the sane noninterventionist views of Dr. Paul is enough to make you want to put down the book. But your reviewer has persevered.
There are some real howlers in the chapter. Like justifying foreign intervention with the Declaration of Independence (p. 397-398). Like bemoaning the vote of the Senate to stop production of the F-22 at 187 fighters (p. 400-401), a decision supported by Senator John McCain, senior military leaders, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and opposed by Democratic and Republican senators because they were concerned about job losses in their districts. Like Saddam Hussein transported his mass of weapons destruction to Syria (p. 415). And like it is all Obama’s fault that the U.S. military presence in Iraq is decreasing (p. 418) when Bush made an agreement to do so in 2008.
Because this review is already too long, I refer the reader to some of my articles regarding things Grudem brings up. On the sixth commandment is only about murder (p. 389), see my “The Unholy Desire of Christians to Legitimize Killing in War.” On soldiers in the New Testament not being condemned (p. 389), see my “There They Crucified Him” and “Do Violence to No Man.” On the just war tradition being consistent with biblical teachings (p. 389), see my “What About Hitler?” On Romans 13 as a justification for national defense (pgs. 392, 425, 428), see my “Romans 13 and National Defense.” On Obama reducing the strength of the military, see my “Rush Is Wrong.” On torture being okay if we don’t call it torture (p. 425-433), see my “Waterboard an A-rab for Jesus,” “Christians for Torture,” and “The Morality of Torture.” And on the war in Iraq being a just war (p. 414-418), see my “Christianity and the War.”
Grudem’s chapter on foreign policy isn’t much better than his chapter on national defense. But this was to be expected since an interventionist military policy is just the other side of the coin of an interventionist foreign policy. No one would argue with the author that the “promotion of human freedom, human rights, and democratic government is consistent with the most foundational convictions of our nation” (p. 441). But it is the way Grudem feels the United States should go about this that is troubling. He applies the command of Jesus to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39) to nations, saying that “nations should seek to do good for other nations insofar as they have opportunity to do so” (p. 437). However, the main way this is to be done is through foreign aid; that is, the looting of the American taxpayers (see my many articles on foreign aid here). Grudem supports continuing the Cuban embargo. Grudem is not a dispensationalist, but still believes that “we should treat Israel as a very special and close ally” (p. 467). He again states his disagreement with the noninterventionism of Ron Paul because it is a policy “which opposes any defense alliances with Israel and all foreign or military aid to Israel.”
Grudem takes an exceptionally hard line on immigration. “The United States must take immediate action to immediately and effectively close its borders,” he says (p. 473). As mentioned previously, Grudem favors the immediate construction of a secure and impenetrable border fence. He sees no valid argument to oppose it or delay it. He favors more effective law enforcement to prevent employers from hiring illegal immigrants and the E-Verify program. To his credit, Grudem does say that the idea that foreign workers will take jobs away from Americans “is based on a misunderstanding of economics” (p. 481) And he also says that “immigrants who want to come to the United States are, by and large, producers who bring benefit to the economy and helpers who bring other benefits to the society as a whole” (p. 476). One thing he doesn’t say is that the welfare state should be abolished to prevent immigrants draining more resources “from the nation than they provide to the nation” (p. 472). The fact that Grudem lives in Arizona may somewhat explain his views on immigration.
Freedom of Speech
Here Grudem presents a biblical and constitutional defense of freedom of speech. In doing so he harshly criticizes campaign finance restrictions, campus “hate speech” codes, and the Fairness Doctrine.
Freedom of Religion
The only problem I see with the author’s chapter on Freedom of Religion is his advocacy of government-supported “faith-based” programs because they “‘promote the general welfare’ of the nation” (p. 508). He maintains that faith-based programs “actually save tax dollars that would otherwise need to be spent to help the people who are cared for by these religiously based institutions.” But just like vouchers don’t lower federal spending on education, so faith-based program funding will not lower federal welfare spending. Our main disagreement is over government funds needing to be spent on welfare in the first place.
The last chapter in the Specific Issues section covers topics like regulators, earmarks, affirmative action, gender-based quotas, farm subsidies, tariffs, tort reform, the NEA, Native Americans, and gambling. Grudem favors “the complete abolition of all affirmative action policies in law and business and government once for all” (p. 524). He opposes farm subsidizes and tariffs on principle, but is willing to make some exceptions. He terms regulators “a vast army of bureaucrats,” and labels increasing government regulation as “anti-democratic” and “anti-free market” (p. 517), but allows for “certain product control standards and certain standards for safety and justice in the workplace” to be “enforced by such government agencies” (p. 515). His criticism of the NEA is mainly over its opposition to vouchers. The solution to the Indian problem he sees as private ownership of property instead of the system of tribal ownership.
On gambling, Grudem says he is not aware of any specific Bible verses that directly prohibit participating in gambling” (p. 550), and that it is his personal practice to avoid gambling, but since casinos and state lotteries “bring much more harm to society than the benefits they generate” (p. 551), he would vote against a state allowing a lottery, an Indian casino, or a commercial casino to operate. Since Grudem has a section on gambling, there is no excuse for not having a section on the drug war.
The third division of the book, Concluding Observations, has three unrelated chapters, two of which depart from the stated purpose of the book. Chapter 16, on “media bias,” closes with one Scripture reference at the end. Chapter 18, on “faith and works, and trusting God while working in politics and government,” although it contains may Scripture references, likewise departs from the subject of politics and the Bible.
Chapter 17, titled “application to Democratic and Republican policies today,” forms the book’s conclusion. It also serves as the author’s solution to policies that don’t line up with the Bible – vote Republican. Grudem criticizes Jim Wallis for writing a book about God not being a Republican or Democrat and then arguing that “‘God’s politics’ are the politics of the Democratic Party” (p. 573), but this is exactly what he has done as it relates to Republicans.
Grudem is deluded to think that the policies and principles of the two major parties represent very different viewpoints (see my many articles on the Republican Party here). He claims that “the Republican Party has been dominated by people favoring smaller government, lower taxes, strong defense, traditional standards regarding abortion and marriage, the promotion of democracy, and the promotion of free market economics” (p. 574). Anyone who has studied the history of the Republican Party knows that this is simply not true (again, see my many articles on the Republican Party here). Rather than the teachings of the Bible mostly supporting “the current policies of the Republicans” (p. 573-574), it would be more accurate to say that the teachings of the Bible mostly support Republican rhetoric that they don’t really believe.
One thing that will turn people from, and cause readers not to finish Politics – According to the Bible is its size (619 pgs.). The main reason for this is the author’s departure from the book’s subject, which is not limited to just chapters 16 and 18. This does not mean that all his departures are necessarily bad, but I do think that the book, in its current format, should have been shorter, or else expanded and put into a more encyclopedic format.
To repeat what I said at the onset, although this book has much to disappoint, and much I vehemently disagree with, is still an important and needful work that I can recommend to Christians interested in religion and politics, albeit with many caveats.
Originally published on LewRockwell.com on November 17, 2011.
You might not want to read Grudem’s Politics According to the Bible, but there are plenty of other great books out there for you. Check out LCC’s latest book list and the recently updated LCC bookstore, and support LCC by clicking through a link to Amazon.com. Thanks!