Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture
Right Wing US Ideology presented as Theology
Wayne Grudem is Prof. of Theology & Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary in Arizona, USA. His recent book, Politics according to the Bible (2010) addresses the issue of gun ownership & gun control (pp. 201-212). Grudem argues that the Bible justifies people (at least Americans) arming themselves with guns.
Prof. Grudem: the Bible justifies Guns
Grudem deduces that the Bible gives people the right to defend themselves. He alleges JesusÃ¢ÂÂ words about Ã¢ÂÂturning the other cheekÃ¢ÂÂ have been misunderstood. Jesus said, Ã¢ÂÂYouÃ¢ÂÂve heard it said, Ã¢ÂÂAn eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.Ã¢ÂÂ But I say to you, Ã¢ÂÂDo not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as wellÃ¢ÂÂ.Ã¢ÂÂ (Matt. 5:38-40)
Dr. Grudem says, Ã¢ÂÂSometimes people think that Jesus prohibited all self-defenseÃ¢ÂÂ¦ But Jesus is not prohibiting self-defense here. He is prohibiting individuals from taking personal vengeance simply to Ã¢ÂÂget evenÃ¢ÂÂ with another person. The verb Ã¢ÂÂslapsÃ¢ÂÂ is the Greek term rhapizÃ
Â, which refers to a sharp slap given as an insultÃ¢ÂÂ¦ So the point is not to hit back when someone hits you in insult. But the idea of a violent attackÃ¢ÂÂ¦ is not in view here.Ã¢ÂÂ [Grudem, Politics, pp. 201-2] Grudem emphasizes the insult, over the assault. But, is that really what Jesus meant?
Non-resistance limits Self-defense
It seems to me GrudemÃ¢ÂÂs emphasis on Ã¢ÂÂa slap in insultÃ¢ÂÂ is overly narrow. Jesus first gives the principle: Ã¢ÂÂDonÃ¢ÂÂt resist one whoÃ¢ÂÂs evil.Ã¢ÂÂ No doubt itÃ¢ÂÂs not easy to apply, but that fact doesnÃ¢ÂÂt justify tempering this injunctionÃ¢ÂÂs sharp edges. The principle of non-resistance--Ã¢ÂÂDonÃ¢ÂÂt resist an evil personÃ¢ÂÂ--is illustrated by an unprovoked slap, taking you tunic, etc. Luke adds Ã¢ÂÂif someone takes away your goods donÃ¢ÂÂt demand them backÃ¢ÂÂ (6:30). Jesus told his disciples not to exercise their right to retain possession of their own goods, clothing or an un-bruised face in response to an evil personÃ¢ÂÂs actions. Surely this precept does circumscribe the self-defense of oneÃ¢ÂÂs possessions and physical wellbeing! Considered in context, JesusÃ¢ÂÂ charge of non-resistance severely limits his disciplesÃ¢ÂÂ exercising their rights of self-defense. David eluded King SaulÃ¢ÂÂs spear; Paul evaded his pursuers by escaping Damascus in a basket; Jesus escaped hostile crowds (Luke 4:29-30; John 8:59). But these are examples of self-preservation, not of self-defense.
Jesus encouraged his Disciples to have Swords
Grudem offers as an added basis for armed self-defense: JesusÃ¢ÂÂ dialogue with his disciples just prior to his betrayal: Ã¢ÂÂLet the one Ã¢ÂÂ¦who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: Ã¢ÂÂAnd he was numbered with the transgressors.Ã¢ÂÂ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.Ã¢ÂÂ They said, Ã¢ÂÂLook, Lord, here are two swordsÃ¢ÂÂ. And he said to them, Ã¢ÂÂIt is enoughÃ¢ÂÂ.Ã¢ÂÂ (Luke 22:36-38)
Grudem claims Ã¢ÂÂPeople commonly carried swords at that time for protection against robbers, and apparently at least two of JesusÃ¢ÂÂ disciples Ã¢ÂÂ¦were still carrying swords, and Jesus had not forbidden this.Ã¢ÂÂ (p. 202) He concludes from this Ã¢ÂÂthat Jesus is encouraging his disciples to carry a sword for self-defense, and even to buy one (v. 36) if they did not have one.Ã¢ÂÂ (p. 203, emphasis original)
Jesus numbered with Transgressors
But this dialogue occurred in the context of JesusÃ¢ÂÂ betrayal and arrest. Jesus said, Ã¢ÂÂThis Scripture must be fulfilled Ã¢ÂÂ¦Ã¢ÂÂhe was numbered with the transgressorsÃ¢ÂÂ [Isa. 53:12].Ã¢ÂÂ Were the disciples, armed with swords, the Ã¢ÂÂtransgressors,Ã¢ÂÂ with whom Jesus was numbered? Jeremy Schipper is more definite, saying, Ã¢ÂÂJesus instructs his disciples to arm themselves in order to fulfill the prophecy Ã¢ÂÂ¦In Luke the Lord draws a connection between himself as an innocent figure [IsaiahÃ¢ÂÂs suffering servant] associated with wrongdoers.Ã¢ÂÂ [J. Schipper, Disability & IsaiahÃ¢ÂÂs Suffering Servant, p. 75] Thus expositors suggest Jesus told his disciples to arm themselves as a deliberate fulfillment of IsaiahÃ¢ÂÂs prophecy; they played the role of Ã¢ÂÂtransgressorsÃ¢ÂÂ or Ã¢ÂÂwrongdoers.Ã¢ÂÂ In this case, JesusÃ¢ÂÂ endorsement of swords is explained by the exceptional circumstances of his betrayalÃ¢ÂÂa prophecy must be fulfilled. It follows that this incident does not establish a general principle justifying JesusÃ¢ÂÂ disciples arming themselves with weapons. But this refutes GrudemÃ¢ÂÂs position.
Jesus told Peter, Ã¢ÂÂPut your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?Ã¢ÂÂ (Matt. 26:52-53) In this context isnÃ¢ÂÂt Jesus discouraging the use of swords? Moreover, why did the disciples need weapons for self-defense? Jesus could summon Ã¢ÂÂtwelve legions of angelsÃ¢ÂÂ (i.e., 72,000 angels) for their protection, as well as his?
Not Ã¢ÂÂtake up your swords & follow meÃ¢ÂÂ
Other relevant Scriptures are not addressed. Jesus told Pilate, Ã¢ÂÂMy kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.Ã¢ÂÂ (John 18:36) JesusÃ¢ÂÂ servants didnÃ¢ÂÂt fight (offensively or defensively) because JesusÃ¢ÂÂ kingdom is Ã¢ÂÂnot of this world.Ã¢ÂÂ The reason (Jesus says) is not because he must be crucified, itÃ¢ÂÂs due to the nature of his kingdom. Throughout Christian history thousands of missionaries and martyrs have been wounded and killed, without resorting to weapons of self-defense based on JesusÃ¢ÂÂ teaching. Were they all misled? Jesus didnÃ¢ÂÂt tell his disciples Ã¢ÂÂtake up your swords and follow me,Ã¢ÂÂ as we might expect from GrudenÃ¢ÂÂs exposition. He said, Ã¢ÂÂTake up your cross...Ã¢ÂÂ
Rather than finding Ã¢ÂÂsignificant supportÃ¢ÂÂ from Scripture for weapons of self-defense, Grudem has failed to prove his case. If heÃ¢ÂÂs correct we should find support for his view in Acts or the Epistles. But when Stephen and Paul were about to be stoned, they didnÃ¢ÂÂt draw swords in self-defense (Acts 7:58; 14:19). Plus Paul told Timothy to bring his cloak, books, & parchments (1 Tim. 4:13); he didnÃ¢ÂÂt ask for his sword! We donÃ¢ÂÂt find any support for GrudemÃ¢ÂÂs argument in the rest of the New Testament.
Ã¢ÂÂIt is morally right Ã¢ÂÂ¦to be able to use Ã¢ÂÂ¦a gun.Ã¢ÂÂ
Notwithstanding his failure to prove his case, Grudem continues, Ã¢ÂÂIf the Bible authorizes the idea of self-defense in general, and if Jesus encouraged his disciples to carry a sword to protect themselves, then it seems to me that it is morally right for a person to be able to use other kinds of weapons for self-defense. Today, that would include the use of a gunÃ¢ÂÂ¦Ã¢ÂÂ (pp. 203-4, emphasis original). But, since we reject the first two Ã¢ÂÂifÃ¢ÂÂ clauses, we also reject GrudemÃ¢ÂÂs inferenceÃ¢ÂÂÃ¢ÂÂthat it is morally right Ã¢ÂÂ¦to be able to use Ã¢ÂÂ¦a gun.Ã¢ÂÂ This is not a Bible-based teaching. Rather, it appears that Dr. Grudem is reading his right-wing American values into Scripture (whatÃ¢ÂÂs called, eisegesis).
Grudem on Gun Controls
Having argued that the Bible justifies guns, Grudem gives Ã¢ÂÂrecommendations about laws and policies.Ã¢ÂÂ These are supposed to follow from Scripture. The author emphasizes that Ã¢ÂÂIt is important to understand that I see these positions as flowing out of the BibleÃ¢ÂÂs teachings rather than positions that I hold prior to, or independently of, those biblical teachings.Ã¢ÂÂ (p. 13) Turning to specifics, Prof. Grudem asserts that Ã¢ÂÂLaws should guarantee that citizens have the right to possessÃ¢ÂÂ¦ effective means of self-defense.Ã¢ÂÂ (p. 210) Then he recommends Ã¢ÂÂIn the US, the rights of citizens to own guns forÃ¢ÂÂ¦ self-defense should be protected by laws.Ã¢ÂÂ (p. 211) Third, Grudem addresses the issue of gun control. He states that, Ã¢ÂÂGovernments should place reasonable restrictions on gun ownership.Ã¢ÂÂ (p. 211)
Prohibit Anti-tank- & Anti-aircraft missile launchers
What does Grudem consider Ã¢ÂÂreasonable restrictionsÃ¢ÂÂ on guns? First, Ã¢ÂÂgovernments should prohibit convicted felons and the mentally ill from owning or possessing gunsÃ¢ÂÂ (p. 211). Second guns should be prohibited from Ã¢ÂÂsensitive places such as courtrooms or on airplanes.Ã¢ÂÂ Third, Ã¢ÂÂreasonable restrictions would include the prohibition of private ownership ofÃ¢ÂÂ¦ weapons not needed for personal self-defenseÃ¢ÂÂfor e.g. weapons such as machine guns, or an anti-tank rocket launcher or an anti-aircraft missile launcherÃ¢ÂÂ¦Ã¢ÂÂ (p, 211).
Right Wing ideology in theological Garb
This list would be amusing if the author wasnÃ¢ÂÂt serious; but he is! Prof. Grudem has avoided the hard questions. No one, not even the NRA, would oppose prohibiting machine guns, anti-tank- & anti-aircraft missile launchers. But, what about semi-automatic Bushmaster AR-15 used in the Connecticut mass shooting and to ambush firefighters in Webster, NY? The same gun was also involved in the 2003 Washington DC sniper shootings in which killed 10 people. What about similar weapons? Prof. Grudem is silent on these issues.
GrudemÃ¢ÂÂs Bible is a Right-wing American Book
Right Wing Americans and the Christian Right wonÃ¢ÂÂt be offended by Wayne GrudemÃ¢ÂÂs policy positions. In fact, theyÃ¢ÂÂll be grateful that he has provided a Ã¢ÂÂbiblical justificationÃ¢ÂÂ for their position. However, in my view, GrudemÃ¢ÂÂs conclusions are the result of reading Right Wing Republican values into the Bible, rather than letting the Bible speak for itself on the issue of guns. Grudem says, 'I am well aware that the Bible is not an American book.' However, in his hands the Bible becomes a very American book, aligned with the conservative wing of US politics. On the issue of guns, Wayne Grudem presents conservative ideology as theology. What he portrays as Ã¢ÂÂpolicy according to the BibleÃ¢ÂÂ is (in fact) Right Wing American ideology cloaked in theological garb.
December 29, 2012
Purchased three more copies for our adult children. Have also recommended it to many of our friends.
October 19, 2012
A thoughtful and complete resource.
After being involved in several recent conversations with both conservative and liberal Christian friends, I desired to get away from my "feelings" on some of the issues of the day, and be informed instead by what the Bible has to say about them. While looking for resources to help, I discovered Grudem's book.
Wayne Grudem does an excellent job, I feel, of taking scripture passages as a whole (not pulling verses out of context) to develop his views on many of the issues facing us as individuals, families, our nation and the world. Where there are no scriptural guidelines for a given issue (and there are few), he clearly states that, but then continues to offer solid reasoning to support his views. While I don't agree with each and every viewpoint he maintains, the scope of scriptural foundation and thoughtfulness with which he makes his case are impressive.
Regardless of your political persuasion, this book can be used to either help solidify your beliefs or challenge your assumptions. I highly recommend it.
July 10, 2012
I wonÃ¢ÂÂt recommend this book
A Review of Wayne GrudemÃ¢ÂÂs Attempts to be Comprehensive
Politics is a very broad subject which allows for a great deal of disagreement. Likewise, the Christian faith has many values that are unique to individuals and groups. Combining the two is not always easy, and it certainly does not make for precise clarification. Each system presents a unique set of biases which have a tendency to taint the other. Understanding what the Bible teaches about politics ought to be a great concern for Christians. The challenge then, is to be willing to examine our preconceptions and not allow them to be determined for us.
I was mislead in my initial approach to reading this book. Perhaps it was Peter SanlonÃ¢ÂÂs review in The Gospel CoalitionÃ¢ÂÂs Themelios in which he called Grudem a Libertarian. Or maybe it was because Voddie Baudham recommended it in his endorsement of Ron Paul. I would wager to say that neither of them actually read the book because it would clearly clash with their statements and positions.
Wayne Gruden is a theologian, professor, and author of several books, but most widely known for his book on Ã¢ÂÂSystematic Theology.Ã¢ÂÂ He admits upfront that he is not a political journalist, and that his approach is slanted from a conservative mindset. As a relatively trusted resource among evangelicals, I can understand why people would turn to him on such a subject, but one thing is clear, he is not an authority on political matters. He may even be overestimating his attempts by thinking his principles apply across cultures and party lines.
Ã¢ÂÂPolitics According to the Bible Ã¢ÂÂ A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of ScriptureÃ¢ÂÂ is GrudemÃ¢ÂÂs attempt in creating a resource for Christians in understanding and interacting with government. Written in three sections, the first lays out a thorough explanation of how Christians approach the balance of faith and politics. He then develops a biblical worldview that addresses many of the passages where the Bible addresses politics. The second section deals with particular issues relating to a wide range of topics most specifically focused on political policies. In the final section he addresses the culture of politics and how it works in the US.
The premise that a book can address every issue in politics according to the Bible is rather bold. It comes along with a wave of thought that everything Christians involve themselves in somehow needs to be related to biblical principles. Grudem points out in his introduction that much of what he has to say cannot be supported biblically. Ã¢ÂÂI am certainly not claiming that the Bible also supports all the facts I cite about the world today.Ã¢ÂÂ With this admission, Grudem explains three standards he used in forming his premises: Biblical certainty, broader principles, and an appeal to facts. In reality, what he does is substitute broader principles for his presuppositions and an appeal to facts as philosophical arguments. If it were a cake recipe, the philosophical notions would be the flour, his presuppositions would be the sugar, and the biblical principles would be the baking powder. Hardly the comprehensive book it is selling itself to be. Certainly this canÃ¢ÂÂt be avoided, and I wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt even attempt to write a book on politics suggesting that everything had Scriptural support, but the issue I take with this claim is GrudemÃ¢ÂÂs response that he is not going to distinguish between these three. Instead, he leaves that up to the reader to determine if he is right. But what, then, is the purpose of a comprehensive work claiming biblical affirmation? This allows Grudem to present his views to a Christian audience without the strenuous effort of explaining his premises. He can make an emotionally charged case without Scriptural support and rest assured that he had warned his readers he would do so.
While claiming to be comprehensive, the book is 600 pages long, I feel he has failed to fully address the full spectrum of ideas. Section one is exhaustive in the sense that it addresses the wide spectrum of evangelical positions, but it is the only section where he fully expounds on opposing views. Once you get into the second section, making up the majority of the book, GrudemÃ¢ÂÂs views are narrow and slanted. Instead of making the effort to explain every angle, he writes directly to his audience. Some of his arguments are solid and can be supported, but most of them are narrowly guided by his political slant.
GrudemÃ¢ÂÂs conclusions could better be described as the typical evangelical default position. The reader really needs to be aware of the very real problem of confirmation bias. Grudem does not make a special effort to explain his positions to those who would disagree with his premises. Instead, he writes directly to an audience that already agrees with him. I even got the impression that many of his points were being read back into the text instead of coming from a biblical perspective. This is a dangerous method in developing a political worldview that most people wonÃ¢ÂÂt notice as long as they agree with them. In this way, I cannot stress enough how destructive this is in creating a sound, theological worldview.
In the end, Ã¢ÂÂPolitics According to the BibleÃ¢ÂÂ is a mix bag of common sense, conservative values, and totalitarian ideals. Though written from a conservative perspective suggesting limited government, several of his religious convictions are allowed to seep into his political perspective and influence his decision in a totalitarian way. Even though he addresses where socialism and totalitarianism are wrong, he is not able to see where he crosses that line himself. This is another major problem we are facing today because the conservative side alleges that they are fighting for limited government, but in reality, they only want to limit it in certain areas. Many of their attacks on the liberal system can be made against them as well for different policies. This is obviously not something that Grudem addresses in the book. The two parties in the system are more alike than they are willing to admit.
I was prompted on several occasions while reading through this book to write complete essays in contradiction to GrudemÃ¢ÂÂs positions. (Maybe I still will through the coming month. You can start looking forward for those.) In many cases he uses bad information, relies on traditional values, and assumes the reader agrees with his premise. He quotes Aristotle, a totalitarian, on defining marriage. He uses gross logical fallacies to build his argument on national defense. Some of what he says is completely accurate, particularly about the environment and special interest groups. But in other areas he contradicts himself when suggesting that the public school system is flawed and then presenting how he would fix it without actually restructuring it. Furthermore, He wrote this several years ago before current events that would contradict several things he said. He suggest that nuclear power plants present little to no risk as a form of energy. Something I think he would retract in light of the tragedy in Japan. He supported Mitt Romney in the 2008 nomination, and he makes a special effort to attack Ron Paul. In many ways, this book already has an expiration date and it is already a couple years old.
Initially, I thought I would be able to recommend this book as a resource with some reservations. I assumed it would be a scholarly attempt to paint a wide picture of where Christians can see the full spectrum of politics according to the Bible. Sadly, I was greatly disappointed in the process which he uses to determine his convictions. ItÃ¢ÂÂs not that we disagree that bothers me, but how he draws many of his conclusions and fails to point out their limitations.
GrudemÃ¢ÂÂs thoughts represent an older generation of conservative values which are not being translated into contemporary language. There is a major shift taking place in the next generation of the conservative party, and GrudemÃ¢ÂÂs views are antiquated. ItÃ¢ÂÂs not that he is wrong, or that his concerns are not longer relevant, but that his method in presenting them does not speak to the people who will become the next leaders in our generation. It is like writing an instruction manual for those about to retire. For this reason, I wonÃ¢ÂÂt recommend this book, even as a resource guide. There are much better resources and they donÃ¢ÂÂt have to carry the name of Christian or biblical in order to be trusted as authorities. So, with sadness, I canÃ¢ÂÂt recommend this book.
Check out my book reviews every Wednesday at worthyofthegospel.com
April 26, 2012