Well, it’s almost that time of year. That time that comes every fall in even numbered years and counts the most every four years. You know, that time. That time when Facebook friend lists get pruned because some people are just a little too politically vocal about the wrong side of an issue. That time when real life friendships become strained, or perhaps are completely split by some loose lips.
I am speaking of course of election season. It’s the time when you usually have the opportunity to vote for whichever candidate you despise the least, knowing that your single vote does little to sway the inevitable. I am being rather pessimistic, but growing up in a pretty committed red state (so committed in fact that it didn’t even vote for Al Gore even though he was from there) and then spending four years in another one helped mold my thinking. I live in a blue state now so I am more compelled to take action. But still, I have a pretty good imagination for how it will all turn out.
In the midst of all of this, I’ve been thinking more about politics. I haven’t been speaking more about it yet, but I’ve at least been doing some homework, and part of that was digging into Wayne Grudem’s Politics According To The Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues In Light of Scripture. Grudem is writing not “from the perspective of a lawyer or journalist or professional politician, but from the perspective of a professor with a Ph.D in New Testament studies and twenty-eight years of experience in teaching the Bible” (13). To me this was good news and just might mean he brings some sense into the discussion.
Grudem’s primary purpose in writing is “not to be liberal or conservative, or Democratic or Republican, but to explain a biblical worldview and a biblical perspective on issues of politics, law, and government” (13). That being said, he is also forthcoming that the result is more “conservative” than “liberal.” He is critical of policies of Barack Obama, but has praise for the man as “articulate, poised, highly intelligent,” and calls him a “remarkably effective speaker.” He also “rejoices” that our nation has overcome previous prejudice and has elected an African-American man as President. So, while critical about policies and positions, Grudem is very respectful of persons that he disagrees with.
Looking at the book itself, it is split into 3 main parts:
- Basic Principles
- Specific Issues
- Concluding Observations
For most people, the best course of reading would be to read the first section in full and then skip to the specific issues they are most interested in reading about. The first section really lays the groundwork for Grudem’s political approach. Since Grudem is fairly consistent in teasing out his principles to specific issues, if a reader were to disagree with the position Grudem takes on a hot button issue, the criticism would need to interact with Grudem’s overall worldview. And this worldview Grudem sees as coming from Scripture, so the burden would be first to show Grudem is building his foundation from Scripture wrongly, and only then comment on the architecture of the actual political building.
In part 2, Grudem moves to discussion specific political issues and groups his discussions into the following chapters:
- The Protection of Life
- The Family
- The Environment
- National Defense
- Foreign Policy
- Freedom of Speech
- Freedom of Religion
- Special Groups
Off the 600+ page book, this section takes right about 2/3 of the total space. Grudem basically leaves no stones unturned. That doesn’t mean he interacts with every political view point out there, because remember, his purpose is to take the biblical worldview (as he sees it) and apply it to specific political discussions. I think this is a better approach than to try show how everyone you disagree with is wrong. Grudem does of course disagree with other people, but his focus is more on looking at things positively through his worldview rather than arguing for a political position on all the issues and then critiquing all the major detractors. Or worse, not really arguing for your own view so much as demonizing everyone on the other side.
The final section just offers some concluding observations, but they include insights on the problem of media bias, how his insights from part 2 apply to Democratic and Republican policies today, and how can Christians better trust God while working in politics and government. This makes the book somewhat chiastic with an opening and concluding section on meta-issues and biblical foundations and a central section actually working through key political issues.
An initial strength or weakness, depending on how you look at it, is the title of the book. The subtitle does much to clarify, but for people who will disagree with Grudem’s political positions, it gives the impression that they are unbiblical. Or to put it another way, the title of the book implies that Grudem is presenting the only biblical way to look at the issues. Now, for the most part, I agree with where he is coming from, but trying to look at it from the other side, it won’t draw more liberal and/or Democratic readers into the discussion very well.
Beyond that, I thought Grudem handled himself well in political discussions. I thought his discussion of the gay marriage debate was particularly interesting and it actually helped to change my opinion on the matter. Previously, I had been open to the idea of civil unions being politically sanctioned but in such a way that it was not forced on churches to perform ceremonies. That way homosexuals can have the civil benefits they are looking for, but without attaching the word “marriage” to what they have. Grudem offers a good reminder though that what the homosexual community is looking is not properly called “rights” civil or otherwise but are really “privileges” or “rewards” (223ff). In this sense, the rewards/privileges that the government offers heterosexual couples who get married is meant to function as an incentive for that kind of behavior in the positive construction of society. Homosexual couples are arguing for that same kind of reward for their behavior and so it is not a matter of “rights” so much as “rewards” and whether or not we want a government that rewards homosexuality. Looking at it that way changed my perspective on the issue considerably, but as far as day to day action, I will still treat individuals who practice homosexuality with respect and dignity even though I would vote against granting them civil privileges.
That is just an example of how I find Grudem’s discussion and handling of the issues insightful. I consider it a strength and am glad he doesn’t just gloss over issues, but really wrestles with them and has done a considerable amount of research into court cases and other political documents as he makes his decisions. Since there much to talk about in this book, especially this time of year, I may offer future posts interacting with other positions Grudem puts forward. For now, though, I think you get the idea.
On the whole, I think this is a great book. It is well written and accessible to pretty much any reader. Grudem is kind and fair in his political discourse and even if you disagree with him, his arguments are worth considering. I would hope that those who are more Democratic and/or liberal politically than Grudem is will interact with his arguments on more than a superficial level. As consistent as he is, if a reader feels there is a problem in the way Grudem handles a political issue, it can probably be traced to his foundational assumptions about government that Grudem unpacks in the opening section. Discussions may spring from the second section’s emphasis on political issues, but the discussions will eventually need to move to the opening section and deal with the foundation and show why it is or isn’t biblical.
For those readers who are more political inclined, this book needs to be on your reading lists. Even if you ultimately are going to disagree with just about everything Grudem says, at least you can learn from Grudem how to have a civil discussion about politics that is thoughtful and aiming to be biblically informed. And if we could all strive for that, maybe most people wouldn’t hate this time of year.
- Author: Wayne Grudem
- Title: Politics According To The Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues In Light of Scripture
- Publisher: Zondervan (September 3, 2010)
- Hardcover: 624pgs
- Reading Level: General Reader
- Audience Appeal: Anyone interested in politics