Politics and War


What's Your Filter

Date: October 5, 2014
Study: What’s Your Filter? Christian Apologetics and Worldview
Teacher: Casey Haase

Study Thesis: A Christian worldview enables us to look at all of live through scriptural lenses, which in turn equips us to defend the faith, evangelize wisely, critique unbiblical thought that pervades our culture, and bring God glory in all of life.

Worldview Definition: A commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.

Six Reasons to Study Worldviews: 1) to develop ours, 2) to defend the faith, 3) to evangelize better, 4) to identify and reject false teaching, 5) to grow in cultural discernment, and 6) to glorify God in all of life.

Five Worldview Foundations: God, Reality, Man, Morality, Knowledge.

What is a Biblical worldview of politics, government, and war?  What is a Biblical view of government?  Is war ever justified?  How do non-Christians think of government and warfare?  And what are the implications for a Biblical versus an unbiblical view? 

The Biblical View of Government

  1. Origin
    God made government. “There is no authority except that which God has established…[the ruler] is God’s servant to do you good.” (Romans 13:1ff). Jesus even tells Pilate during his trial that “you would have no power over me if it were not given you from above,” (John 19:11). In a sense, government is “natural,” that is, there is no real Biblical concept of human life without some kind of government. There is no “state of nature” that existed prior to government. Even the Garden of Eden was a monarchy with God ruling creation through Adam and Eve.
  2. Purpose
    Government exists in part to protect people and punish wrongdoers. Romans 13:1-7:  “But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”  And we also saw that government exists “to do you good.”
  3. Legitimacy
    Government is legitimate because God made it for our benefit. Jesus tells the Pharisees “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s,” (Matthew 22:21). Government has a legitimate claim on our obedience.  Paul says “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities… he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted… This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” And Peter repeats the lesson in 1 Peter 2:17: “Fear God, honor the king.”
  4. Good Government
    “Good government” according to the biblical worldview is government that embodies justice. “The God of Israel spoke, the Rock of Israel said to me: ‘When one rules of men in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth,” (2 Samuel 23:3-4).  Good government blesses the governed.  We should remind ourselves of this truth especially now when our government here in the United States is widely distrusted and disliked, and yet continues to provide some of the better governance available in the world today—or, even, ever.
  5. Bad Government
    Bad government, then, is one that governs unjustly. Government can become a force of great evil. Government is, after all, an institution made up of sinful people. Historically, we see that most governments that have ever lived existed, at least in part or towards some people, perpetuated grave injustices. Specifically, bad government persecutes God’s people. This even appears to be part of Satan’s plan. We read in Revelation 13, 17, and 18 about the Beast that rises out of the Sea that fights against God’s Church. Most commentators have interpreted this as a reference to evil and oppressive governments.
  6. Civil Disobedience and Revolt
    Christians are obligated to disobey laws that prohibit the preaching of the gospel or that command idolatry. In the Old Testament, Daniel rightly refused to obey Darius’ edict to cease praying to the God of Israel. And when Peter and John were commanded by the Sanhedrin to stop preaching, they replied “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.  For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). During the early church many Christians were martyred because they rightly refused to worship the Emperor of Rome as a god.
  7. Relation to Individuals 
    In the Biblical view, individuals have eternal worth; nations do not-but individuals find much of their purpose in communities. Only men and women are said to be made in the image of God. But “Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales” (Isaiah 40:15). Yet God clearly made mankind to find some of his worth and meaning in fellowship with others in community. He saw Adam alone and, before there was sin, said that “it is not good for man to be alone,” and so he created woman and marriage. He deals throughout Scripture with families and groups in covenanting with His people. He chose for himself a nation, a whole people, and revealed His character through the national history of ancient Israel. And one of the most important ways in which we learn about God and grow in sanctification today is by belonging to a group—a church—of fellow Christians. So in the Bible, while individuals have primacy, there is a sense in which individuals live out their individuality most fully when they are embedded in a community.
  8. War
    Because the state exists to punish wrongdoers and uphold order in a sinful world, the state must sometimes use physical coercion, or “bear the sword,” as Paul puts it in Romans 13. Most Christians have interpreted this, following Augustine and Aquinas, as the grounds for understanding that war is sometimes justified. Extrapolating from the Bible, Christian thinkers developed what we call today “Just War Theory”. Just War Theory says that war is justified only when it is fought for a just case (such as self-defense), by a right authority, and with right intention. Later thinkers also added that war should be a last resort and have a reasonable chance of success, and still later thinkers added criteria about justice in how wars are fought, and how they are ended as well. The purpose of Just War Theory was to delegitimize wars fought for self-aggrandizement, glory, riches, wars of aggression, and private warfare between gangs or nobles, the use of warfare as a cover for crimes and abuses, and the exaction of vengeance after a war. In this view, war is a regrettable and sad, but sometimes necessary, result of living in a sinful world. (Not all Christians hold to Just War Theory; a minority throughout history have held to pacifism).

What do these passages have to say about the form of government or specific laws?
Note that we haven’t said anything about the form of government or about specific laws. What we’ve covered so far is pretty much the extent of the Bible’s explicit, specific teaching about government. The Bible does not contain an ideal constitution. I think we can infer some more specific principles from the Bible about government. For example, all individuals are made in God’s image and are equal in moral worth before him. A form of government that recognizes human equality, and treats us equal under law, seems to reflect principles of the Kingdom of God in this world. That sounds reasonable enough.
However, there are two cautions we should be aware of. First, that we should not conveniently harmonize the Bible with the system of government we happen to live under. Most Christians in the past would not have agreed with this particular political application of the Bible. There have almost always been Christians who have harmonized the Bible with whatever regime they lived under, whether it be monarchical, aristocratic, feudal, or socialist. We need to approach such political interpretations of the Bible with humility and beware of simply rationalizing the world we live in, rather than critically analyzing it. Second, we can only go so far applying principles of the Kingdom of God to the City of Man. Taken to its extreme, that could lead us to try to build a theocracy.

The Enlightenment View of Government

  1. Origin
    Government is a human, not divine, creation. We create governments by agreeing with other rational individuals on principles for mutual protection and subjugation.  Rational consent to a “social contact” is the fount of government.
  2. Purpose
    Government exists to protect individual rights, maximize social welfare, and advance progress. That is why over time governments stopped punishing wrongdoers and instead tried to rehabilitate them.
  3. Legitimacy
    Government is legitimate, because we have consented to it. Government’s legitimacy derives not from God’s ordination, but from the consent of the governed, specifically consent informed by reason.
  4. Good Government
    “Good government” is the vehicle by which we employ our reason to protect our rights and push forward progress and remake the world. In fact, the very notion of “justice” is conflated with the concept of “reason. Immanuel Kant especially argued that justice is defined by rationality.
  5. Bad Government
    Government can be a force of great stupidity if it is not guided by reason.  Because reason is the wellspring and source of good government and government’s legitimacy, government goes awry when it fails to consult reason. The greatest crime for an Enlightened statesman is to act incompetently or without full information, or without consulting the latest findings of the relevant experts.
  6. Civil Disobedience and Revolt
    We are not obligated to obey unreasonable laws. Laws are only valid if they reflect universal reason.
  7. Relation to Individuals
    Individuals have infinite worth—because of their reason. Nations can have worth as well, as constructions and extensions of human reason, but individuals have a clear primacy.
  8. War
    Enlightenment thinkers largely hold to a version of Just War Theory, but their understanding of justice is heavily influenced by their understanding of the authority of reason. If reason is the foundation of the state and the defining element of justice, warfare can become a legitimate tool to fight “unreasonable” nations and teach them to be rational. This has the effect of lowering the bar for just war, so that a “just cause” is not simply self-defense or the preservation of order, but the “correction” and “discipline” of barbarian nations that haven’t been enlightened. This is how Europeans justified imperialism.

The Enlightenment was the major influence on the American Founding.

What are some similarities between a Biblical and Enlightenment view of political thought?

  • Respect for individuals
  • Human Equality under the law

There is some truth and wisdom in Enlightenment political thought. The Bible says that every individual matters because we are all made in the image of God. A political system founded on respect for individuals goes a long way to honoring God’s will for corporate human life. That alone makes Enlightenment political systems far superior to most, if not all, other systems yet tried.

What are some differences?

  • State is an artifical creation of man; justification to overthrow state and replace it
    • Lowers the bar for disobeying government’s authority
  • State is guided by reason alone (incorrect view). No such thing as neutral zone absent moral or religious  influence
  • Naïve in doctrine of human progress and perfectibility.
    • Gov’ts are of sinners, by sinners, and for sinners

But Enlightenment thinkers are wrong to portray the state as an artificial creation of man’s design. They cast the state that way because they also wanted to argue that man could uncreate the state—that is, he had the ability, right, and even duty to overthrow the state and replace it with another one. Their bar is substantially lower than the Bible’s for disobeying government’s authority.
Enlightenment thinkers are also wrong to insist that the state be guided by reason alone. Christians know that there is no such thing as a neutral zone absent of any moral or religious influence. Reason itself must be guided by our conscience.
Finally, the Enlightenment proved profoundly naïve in its doctrine of progress and the infinite perfectibility of man and society. Worldly government of every kind is government of sinners, by sinners, and for sinners, which will severely limit what it can achieve.

The Romantic View of Government

  1. Origin
    Romantics make an important distinction between the institutions of government and the organic community which underlies the institutions. In the state of nature, there is no government, but there is the People. The will or voice of the community is the source of government. Institutions are unnatural, but community is natural.  The Will of the People creates government, not in a rational contract, but as an unconscious act of collective willing.The People do not express their general will through an election (which is an institution) but by existing and being who they are.
  2. Purpose
    Government exists to give expression to the general will and to refine and advance the particular cultural genius of its people. Government is a part of culture and expresses a people’s culture.
  3. Legitimacy
    Government is legitimate if it reflects the will and culture of the people as a whole.
  4. Good Government
    Government is good when it fosters community in which we find our greatest fulfillment in unity with other people.
  5. Bad Government
    Government is often not a blessing because the institutions corrupt and obscure the natural will and culture of the community that it supposed to rule it.
  6. Civil Disobedience and Revolt
    We may disobey institutions if they oppress our nature, but it is impossible for us to disobey the community or the general will, because we are by definition part of what makes up the general will.
  7. Relation to Individuals
    The community is the primary unit, and individuals find their meaning in it.
  8. War
    In its worst guises, political Romanticism embraces warfare as a healthy and good expression of the community’s spirit. War brings people together; it causes people to “rally around the flag” and enhances a sense of unity and patriotism. War brings forth the virtues of courage and self-sacrifice for the greater good, for the community. War forces individuals to cooperate for the higher good. So for the romantic, war can actually be looked on as a positive good, not because of the ends for which it is fought, but because of the effect it has on those fighting it. This is why Europeans greeted the outbreak of World War I with jubilation, with mass celebrations in the streets of their capitals. Romantic thinkers understand the emotional dynamics of patriotism and warfare very well, but when divorced from a Biblical and moral context and from Just War Theory, it can become an excuse for aggression and belligerence.

What political Romanticism gets right is that community is often a good thing, and corporate activities aimed and inspiring togetherness are not always bad. The ennobling feeling we get when we’re part of something larger than ourselves is not wrong. It is what we feel on the 4th of July when we hear the words of the Declaration, or watch the fireworks. It helps inspire soldiers to acts of self-sacrifice. And it can even play a role in our sanctification. CS Lewis talked about how these little worldly communities of town and country can be helpful training grounds where we habituate our hearts to acts of fraternity and disinterestedness towards our fellow man.

The Postmodern View of Government
Postmodernism doesn’t have much of a political theory aside from the ethic of resistance we talked about last week. Postmodernists adopt an instinctive opposition to whoever or whatever is in power, but it is unclear if postmodernism can actually serve as the basis for a governing philosophy. We have yet to see whether postmodernism can ever put forward a coherent political philosophy.

  1. Origin
    Government is created by ideological and physical coercion.
  2. Purpose
    The purpose of government is to serve the interests of the elites.
  3. Legitimacy
    Government is almost always illegitimate. Only the distribution of social services and the redress of grievances may be a legitimate activity of government.
  4. Good Government
    Good government rarely exists.
  5. Bad Government
    Bad government is a given.
  6. Civil Disobedience and Revolt
    We should resist government as a matter of course—with critique and mockery if not with arms.
  7. Relation to Individuals
    The individual is all.
  8. War
    Postmodernism trends towards functional pacifism in its distrust of any political program. Because postmodernism promotes an ethic of resistance, it perhaps would look favorably on revolt, rebellion, and insurgency. However, most insurgents aren’t being motivated by postmodernism; typically, they are motivated by one or another modern philosophy (like socialism or nationalism). But they might get sympathy from postmodern elites in other countries who like the general idea of resistance.

Apologetics and Worldview, Lesson 6. Capitol Hill Core Seminars
The Universe Next Door by James W. Sire


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