A Few Principles for Politics–Pt. 2

Last week, in light of election season, I posted a few biblically shaped principles to keep in mind concerning the political process. This week I wanted to follow up with a few more (though again, this won’t do much more than scratch the surface):

1. There is one pursuit all Christians are called to be involved with regard to politics.

Though Christian involvement in politics certainly shouldn’t be limited to praying for those in government (see below), such prayers are expressly commanded in 1 Tim. 2:1-2: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Christians should pray that those in government, regardless of their political affiliation, would govern with wisdom and justice that is consistent with God-pleasing standards.

2. Particularly in a representative democracy, Christians should seek to participate in other ways.

A wealth of biblical material calls upon those in authority to discharge their responsibilities in the manner mentioned above. In a representative democracy such as our own, that authority to govern lies fundamentally (at least in a human sense) with those who are eligible to vote. They select from their fellow citizens those who will fulfill the roles of government. Christian citizens in particular should therefore seek to be reasonably informed on significant issues and, of course, vote. Along the same lines, some Christians will undoubtedly be called to participate directly in governance, either as candidates/elected officials or otherwise.

3. Not all political positions should be held with equal conviction. 

Theologian Wayne Grudem provides a helpful paradigm on this point in the introduction of his book, Politics According to the Bible. It’s worth quoting at length:

I also want to say that I do not hold with equal confidence every position I support in this book. On some issues I think the overall teaching of the Bible is clear, direct, and decisive, such as the idea that civil governments are set up by God to punish evil and reward good (chap. 3) or the idea that laws in a nation should protect people’s lives, particularly the lives of preborn children (chap. 6).

There is a second set of issues where I depend on arguments from broader principles. On example is my view that some kind of democracy is a preferable form of government (chap. 3). In this case I have reasoned not from direct, specific biblical teaching on the topic but from broader biblical principles (such as the equality of all people in the image of God and the importance of limitations on the power of human government). That kind of argument from broader principles requires wise judgment in applying those principles correctly to a modern situation, and thus there is a greater possibility of making a mistake of failing to balance the principle with other principles that might modify one’s conclusions.

Then I have used a third type of argument: an appeal to facts in the world. In some sections (such as chap. 9, on economics), much of my argument depends on one’s evaluation of the actual facts of certain policies (for instance, do lower tax rates lead to greater economic growth or not?). Such arguments are different from arguments from direct biblical statements, and they are different from arguments on broader biblical principles, for they depend not on the Bible but on an evaluation of the relevant facts in the world today.
[A] different evaluation of the facts might lead someone to a different conclusion about a certain policy.…What I am doing in each chapter, however, is to say that if my understanding of these facts is correct, then the teachings of the Bible seem to me to lead to one conclusion or another about the specific issue under discussion. 

4. Views that are considered to be moderate (or anywhere else) on the political spectrum are not superior by default. 

In what is often a polarized political climate in our country, Christians who don’t wish to blindly follow a particular political party can find middling or moderate positions very attractive. But determining the relative value of any given position shouldn’t be automatically tied to where it falls on the political spectrum. In line with the previous point, Christians should seek to determine as best they can whether a given position is consistent with a biblical perspective and the relevant facts that bear on the issue. Landing in the middle, or anyplace else on the continuum, should be the result of that process, not its controlling variable.  

5. Christians need to handle disagreement rightly.

Given limited knowledge and fallible understanding, Christians will inevitably disagree with one another and those outside the faith about the relative merits of candidates, policies, and the like. This shouldn’t be taken as evidence that all views (political or otherwise) are necessarily of equal worth—there can and should be a vigorous and healthy debate in such instances. But when all is said done, we’re called to love one another (John 13:4), our neighbor (Mat. 22:37-40), and even our enemies (Mat. 5:44). That means treating them with the dignity and respect they deserve as being made in the image of God (James 3:8-10). In particular, Christians who find themselves in disagreement over political questions should remember and take joy in their fundamental unity in Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-13).

A Few Principles for Politics—Pt. 1

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