Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Are Christians too involved in politics?

Here’s a thought-provoking post I missed at the Life Training Institute blog, about the new Wayne Grudem book on politics and the Bible.

Intro:

I’m thoroughly enjoying Wayne Grudem’s Politics According to the Bible. Finally, here’s a Christian theologian who connects the dots: Christian belief is not just about John 3: 16, but transformed living which includeds the transformation of government. True, political success can’t save souls eternally (only the gospel does that), but it can promote a more just society for the weak and oppressed. To that end, Christians should exert significant influence on government.

Grudem begins by challenging five wrong views regarding Christians and government: 1) Government should compel religion. 2) Government should exclude religion. 3) All government is evil and demonic. 4) Do evangelism, not politics. 5) Do politics, not evangelism.

[…]Most helpful to the pro-life cause is Grudem’s refutation of #4—namely, the faulty view that Christians should do evangelism not politics. Sadly, well-intentioned leaders like John MacArthur and Cal Thomas have discouraged pro-life Christians from engaging the culture through politics.

I am not a big fan of John MacArthur and Cal Thomas for the reasons stated, and I don’t think that either is really much of an evangelist in any case, since I never see them referenced as authorities on apologetics, which is really the means by which evangelism occurs in the real world.

In his book, Grudem refutes MacArthur and Thomas:

I agree that one significant way that God restrains evil in the world is through changing people’s hearts when they trust in Christ as their Savior (see 2 Cor. 5:17). But we should not turn this one way into the only way that God restrains evil in this age. God also uses civil government to restrain evil, and there is much evil that can only be restrained by the power of civil government, for there will always be many who do not trust in Christ as their Savior and many who do not fully obey him.

Klusendorf also referenced this post by evangelical Joe Carter.

Excerpt:

Consider that for more than two decades the number one issue on the agenda of the evangelical wing of the religious right has been abortion.

The bitter irony is that this is perceived as the “number one” political issue for evangelicals when it really isn’t one of our top priorities. If evangelicals–and Christians in general–truly cared about this issue, abortion on demand would not be the law of the land.

Imagine if every Christian in America vowed not to cast a vote for any candidate of any party for any office if they supported or condoned the killing of the unborn. Imagine if every pastor in America had the courage to stand in the pulpit and deliver the Gospel-centric message that God abhors this slaughtering of the innocent and that for the church to tolerate this sin is a fecal-colored stain on the garment of Christ’s bride.

But it will never happen because the evangelical church isn’t committed as the church to rectifying this grave injustice. We never have been.

I was having a talk with someone recently who was telling me that sometimes the religious left pushes policies that are inconsistent with the Bible, like wealth redistribution or encouraging Christians to condone sexual immorality instead of setting up boundaries on sexuality by making clear statements of what the Bible says and explaining why what the Bible says is true using real objective evidence. Yes, I support policies that are consistent with what the Bible says – but I don’t look to politics to push non-Biblical policies.

Grudem’s book is must reading for Christians looking for a comprehensive Biblical view of politics, including social AND economic issues.

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17 Responses

  1. Seth says:

    Good post. I don’t think Christians are involved in politics enough, or we would be more effective, just like the excerpt from Joe Carter made clear. God does use civil government to restrain evil, which is why the U.S. needs more God fearing Christians in positions of power.

  2. Stan says:

    “… apologetics, which is really the means by which evangelism occurs in the real world.”

    Yes, Christians should be involved in politics (all aspects of our world) and, yes, Christians are COMMANDED to “make a defense”, to “contend for the faith” — apologetics — but I do have to disagree with the statement here. According to the BIBLE, “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God”, NOT apologetics. But, hey, we’ve disagreed about this before. ;)

    • Seth says:

      My faith in God came by apologetics, cult apologetics to be exact. I was a very weak Christian working with a Jehovah’s Witness. We talked of course about Christianity and he beat me to smithereens to say the least. I realized that I was not a true Christian because I didn’t have a strong foundation in what I “believed.” I studied up on Christian doctrine and cult apologetics. Studying the arguments against Jehovah’s Witnesses strengthened my faith, better stated, matured my faith in Christ.
      To put your faith in something you must have a knowledge of that something or else it’s just blind faith. Apologetics (whatever branch it is) matures that faith. I would dare say the most confident Christians are those that have some degree of knowledge in apologetics and theology. I don’t mean confident in a “I’m better than you” way, but in a salvation way. Jesus gave his disciples great reason for them to put their faith in Him. They (disciples) didn’t put blind faith in Jesus. I recommend the apologetics of Jesus by Norm Geisler for further study of Jesus’ apologetic method.

      • Seth says:

        By “true Christian” I mean I didn’t know my beliefs and how to back those up, even with scripture. I didn’t read my bible, I barely prayed, and I was trying to defend Evangelical Protestantism to a Jehovah’s Witness…how embarrassing, right? :)

      • Stan says:

        I see apologetics as PRECISELY of the value it served for you — strengthening the faith of the weak.

  3. Eldnar says:

    I think that’s a dangerous statement to say John MacArthur isn’t an evangelist. The very definition of evangelist is “someone who preaches the gospel”. That’s John MacArthur’s middle name. (I’m not familiar with Cal Thomas). MacArthur’s ministry and church converts several thousands per year. While I’m a huge fan of Wayne, I think he’s very wrong on this point. Which is a better way to engage the culture?

    1) To focus your primary efforts on passing legislation through politics
    2) Focus your primary efforts on preaching the gospel and winning converts

    Wayne focuses on political success in order to create a more just society, but he misses the point, because both of those goals flow naturally out of an implementation of #2. I’ll side with #2 every day of the week, preaching the gospel and winning thousands of converts, like John MacArthur does, will have far more impact than a primary focus on politics. More Christian voters creates a greater Christian population which leads to more Christian politicians and greater Christian voting power to pass laws. Focusing primarily on enacting Christian laws in a nation that is rapidly devolving to secularism is doing it backwards.

    As a Biola apologetics student and huge fan of Dr. Craig, I would say with with enormous confidence that John MacArthur’s church and ministry is winning far more converts than Dr. Craig’s Reasonable Faith ministry by an exponetial amount. I’m pretty sure Dr. Craig would agree. I’ll ask him what he thinks next time I see him.

    Remember every theologian is an apologist, although every apologist is not a theologian. A focus on apologetics is good, (I’d say it’s mandatory), and only increases the effectiveness of evangelism, but I’d put any apologetics ministry in the world vs. John MacArthur’s Grace to You ministry and run the numbers on converts. In my experience, apologetics is far more effective at strengthening Christians than winning converts, that’s not to say it doesn’t win converts (it does), but not nearly at the rate of someone like MacArthur.

    • I think the question that needs to be answered is this. Does John MacArthur KNOW whether God exists? And does he KNOW whether Jesus has risen from the dead? Does he KNOW whether the Bible is reliable as a historical document? Just so that people understand what I am saying, MacArthur is a young Earther. So he basically dismisses all of science as an authoritative means of discovering the truth of premises. (And I don’t mean assume-naturalism-first science, I mean full-toolbox-of-explanations science)

      Who is the primary audience of John MacArthur? Is it atheists, people who claim to KNOW that there is no being who created and designed the universe? Or is it lapsed Christians who were raised in Christian homes? Has John MacArthur ever spoken to an actual atheist in a public setting? Does he actually KNOW from experience what atheists say, or is he largely preaching to people who already assume inerrancy? Who is the primary audience of his radio show, and does he just assume inerrancy with that audience?

      To convert someone, you have to actually start with a non-Christian who thinks that the the Bible is not accurate, like Craig does. Converting someone is not the process of taking someone who assumes inerrancy and making them feel guilty and making them say a prayer that they do not KNOW is true because of feelings aroused in the moment. Can you point me to something written by MacArthur that addresses an atheist in a way that doesn’t ASSUME inerrancy and appeals to neutral scientific or historical evidence, citing mainstream scholars? I am not interested in appeals to emotions, since that is not a real conversion but just a mood swing, which is reversed in 80% of cases as soon as the person hits college.

      • Seth says:

        While I agree that John’s young earth view certainly hinders his apologetic credibility, he does have some good apologetic messages. A quick tab click over at Apologetics 315 brought up some good mp3s you might want to check out to brush up on John’s views and teaching style. Here is the link: http://apologetics315.blogspot.com/search/label/John%20MacArthur

        John also gave a message on the Trilemma of Christ, which is one of my favorites, and he actually presents it quite well. No, Macarthur is not a seasoned apologist like Craig, but he I’m sure he holds his own with atheists in marketplace conversations.

        Take a look at the link, see what Brian has up on John Macarthur and give a listen, you’ll be surprised. You probably won’t become a Macarthur fan, but maybe you’ll see that he does dabble in apologetics and is familiar with some methods.

      • Eldnar says:

        While I can’t answer for him, but based on listening to his sermons, watching and/or attending conferences where he is a speaker, and watching him on television, I’m confident that MacArthur would answer yes to all of those questions.

        John is indeed a young earther, but that has nothing to do with him preaching the gospel ceaselessly. I too dismiss all of science as a primary authority, science is certainly *informative* but it is certainly not my authority. I would label it a secondary authority, not primary. In 200 years what we consider scientific *fact* will look primitive. Less than 200 years ago the scientific “facts” would have told you that cells were nothing but protoplasm, the scientific “authority” was wrong, how primitive. :)

        John’s primary audience is anyone who does not know Jesus Christ. Atheist, agnostic, false convert, Buddhist, Hindu, etc, it doesn’t matter to him. He preaches the gospel to all. John is not a public debater, his calling is to be a preacher of the gospel and pastor of a church, but if you listen to him regularly he often recounts stories with atheists so I’d say yes, he knows what they say. I mean he’s been a pastor for at least the past 40 years, it’s unfathomable that he hasn’t dialoged and converted countless atheists. Technically you can say that every single one of the thousands of people that his ministry converts every year are atheists.

        I disagree about what it takes to convert someone, the Holy Spirit can convert someone who thinks they are Christian but are not. Atheists are one end of the spectrum of people that need conversion, false Christian converts are another. I probably can’t point you to a dialog of the nature where John speaks as if the Bible isn’t inerrant. He would never do that. He won’t compromise his beliefs for sake of discussion. I can’t imagine conceding inerrancy, among other things, in a discussion, even though it’s not a central focus of my apologetic. John does not appeal to emotion, he appeals to scripture… alone. He actually speaks out very vocally against appeals to emotion.

  4. Mary says:

    I would agree with Eldnar that John MacArthur does good work in addressing a wide spectrum of believers, insipid believers, churchy non-belivers, and overt non-believers. His ministry did a great deal to help me when I was an insipid believer.

    MacArthur and Craig have different giftings and therefore different focii in ministry. Both are used greatly of God.

    I’m sorry to hear that MacArthur discourages Christians from political engagement. I was unaware of that. Do you have a quote to support that, WK?

    I disagree with Eldnar’s criticism of Grudem however. Let’s look at this statement: “More Christian voters creates a greater Christian population which leads to more Christian politicians and greater Christian voting power to pass laws.” This assumes that Christians, once converted, know how to vote and pass laws in Christian ways. Sadly, such is not the case. I know plenty of genuine Christians who are woefully incompetent when it comes to voting along Christian lines or understanding what policies are Christian. It is precisely this lack of understanding which makes Grudem’s work so sorely needed. It’s not a substitute for Gospel preaching, but an aid to assist in Christian living. I want that book.

  5. Neil says:

    How often do you listen to MacArthur? I was just scanning my Podcast list (he’s my favorite Podcast preacher) and he had a series on why you can trust the Bible.

    Apologetics are very important and were a key factor for me. But when in doubt I want to point people to the word of God, which God promised would accomplish what He desired and achieve the purpose for which He sent it. MacArthur does amazingly thorough sermons, verse by verse through the Bible. We need more preachers like him.

  6. Brian Whalen says:

    This statement is huge. Imagine if every Christian in America vowed not to cast a vote for any candidate of any party for any office if they supported or condoned the killing of the unborn. I am so tempted to just repaste that all over the Internet.

    Even though abortion may not be THE issue, someone’s willingness to legally allow killing the unborn says much about their overall view of life, society etc.

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