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Friday, January 30, 2009
Hugh Hewitt interviewed the Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland on his radio show this week. It is a very informative and thought-provoking interview, especially for Christians.
[T]he first thing that I see can be understood by the difference between negative and positive rights. A negative right is a right for me to be protected from harm if I try to get something for myself. A positive right would be my right to have something provided for me. If health care is a negative right, then the state has an obligation to keep people from preventing me from getting health care and discriminating against me. If health care’s a positive right, then the state has an obligation to provide it for me. As I read the New Testament, the government’s responsibility, and by the way, I think the Old Testament prophets say this, too, is I read the prophets in the New Testament, the government’s job is to protect negative rights, not to provide positive rights. So as a Christian, I believe in a minimal government. It’s not the government’s job to be providing the health care benefits for people. So I will be looking to see if Obama does things to minimize the role of government in culture, and to provide for as much human freedom as possible.
I think that Christians believe the Bible has something to say about everything. The Bible has something to say about science, it has something to say about sex in marriage, it has something to say about money. Well why wouldn’t the Bible has something to say about the state? It doesn’t make any sense to me that the Bible would be silent about this one topic when it has something to say about virtually everything else including art, history and so on. So I think what pastors have to do is to simply teach their congregations and lead by example about what the Bible says about the role of the state in public life. I think it’s more important to teach a general political theology than it is to get involved in specific issues from the beginning, because it’s going to be your political philosophy that informs those issues.
This last part is SO true. The American church has done an AWFUL job of promoting a Biblically-based political philosophy, instead choosing to focus on the details of abortion, marriage, etc. So what we've reaped is thousands of young Christians who have no understanding of Christian conservatism but believe that it only has something to say about the so-called "social" agenda, like abortion and gay marriage. Moreland continues:
[T]his is something that pastors need to understand, that to be left-leaning in these days means to be secular. And so one concern that the Christian Church will have towards the movement of politics to the far left is that this represents the secularization of American culture, and the minimalization of religious ideas. You know, Richard John Neuhaus made the point that once religion is taken out of the public square, the state will become totalitarian, because according to Neuhaus, it was the state’s job to protect and preserve human rights, and to mediate the authority of the state to the people and conversely. And I think pastors have a responsibility to teach about a whole range of issues from a Christian perspective. Let me give you another example, Hugh. As I understand that love and compassion have to be voluntary, you can’t force someone to show compassion to someone, but the state does its job by coercion in taxes, and it forces money in one direction as opposed to another. It follows from this that the state can’t show compassion. The state can mete out justice, but it cannot show compassion if compassion is in fact voluntary. It would seem to me, then, as a Christian view of the state, that it is not the state’s job by and large to be showing compassion, but rather to be enforcing criminal justice and so on. If I were a pastor then, I would be emphasizing the fact that it is primarily charities’ job to show compassion, not the state’s.
So the first thing a pastor should do [with regards to political involvement] and the Church should do is to enlist people like the dickens to be involved in the political process and vote. It is unconscionable that we have these rights, and that we have an obligation as disciples of Jesus to try to bring goodness and truth to society, that we don’t use all means available to promote just laws and a just and stable social order through the political process. And so voting is absolutely critical. That’s step one.
Step two, there should be teaching about four topics – first, the culture of life. It is important to vote for a political party that seeks to promote a culture of life. That’s a Christian value. Second, we ought to be promoting a minimal view of the government that follows from my distinction about negative and positive rights. The government has a very limited role in culture as far as the New Testament is concerned. Third, we ought to promote a government that seeks to maintain control over crime and has a strong anti-crime policy. And then finally, it is primarily the job of charity and the local church to care for the poor, and to be involved in that kind of outreach. It is not primarily the state’s job. And so what a pastor should be doing is teaching and leading by example in his church about reaching out to the poor, providing education, food, clothing and job training, and doing it through charities rather than the coercive machinery of the state.
[I]f the Republican Party is closer to a Christian view, then so be it. If the Democratic Party’s closer, then so be it. I’m a Republican at this point, because I find that its policies, when Republicans are acting like Republicans, tend to be closer to my read of the Old and New Testaments than the Democratic Party. So I don’t vote Republican because I care about Republicans, or because I’m politically conservative for its own sake. I’m political conservative because I think that’s the view that the Old and New Testaments teach, and I’ve done a fair amount of study about this.
I will say there’s one important link to this whole thing that I haven’t mentioned yet, and that is that the key to an Evangelical political involvement is what is called natural moral law. Natural moral law is the belief that there is objective morality that can be known by all people from Creation, without the Bible. Natural moral law teaches that there is a right and wrong in the Created world, that can be known by people, without having to turn to the Bible. This is important because the Evangelical does not want to place the state under Scripture. That would be to create a theocracy, and that has never been a good idea. What we want is we want to place the state under the natural moral law. Therefore, if an Evangelical is going to be for traditional marriage, and it’s going to be against gay marriage, it cannot use Scripture to argue that case in the public square. It can be preached from the pulpit that this is a Biblical view, but when it comes to political engagement, it is not our attempt to place the state under the Bible, but to place it under the natural moral law. So it would follow, then, that Christians need to learn how to provide independent arguments for traditional marriage that do not require premises from the Scriptures.


Anonymous said...

"... Christians need to learn how to provide independent arguments for traditional marriage that do not require premises from the Scriptures."

Amen to that!

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Darius' book montage

The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel The Main Thing
Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God
Overcoming Sin and Temptation
According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible
Disciplines of a Godly Man
Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem
When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Ourselves
The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
Respectable Sins
The Kite Runner
Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak
Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak
A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, ... anabaptist/anglican, metho
Show Them No Mercy
The Lord of the Rings
Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass
The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception
Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming
The Chronicles of Narnia
Les Misérables

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