“Christian worldview”? Count me in. It’s a biggie, something I consider vitally important to living the Christian life. Everyone has a worldview; it’s simply the “lens” through which we interpret everything (maybe “world”view is too restrictive a term; “life”view or “everything”view might be better, but sound, well, real stupid). A Christian worldview is simply the outworking of Romans 12:2, the “transformation” that Paul tells us takes place as our minds are “renewed” to think according, not to our natural inclinations, but the Bible’s teaching, which often runs very counter to our natural predilections.

But here’s what’s come up in a couple of posts recently: how does that Christian worldview demand that we interact with others, and how does it demand we interact with law? These are big topics, frankly, worthy of a book, and so cramming the answers down into a simple blog post or three will prove challenging. But let’s try!

Let me deal first of all with this question: how should the holding of a Christian worldview impact our response toward civil law? More specifically, how ought holding to a Christian worldview impact the laws we try to see passed…and the laws we do not try to see passed?

As a matter of Christian principle, it is true of the believer that our bodies are “temple(s) of the Holy Spirit”, and that entails a responsibility as believers to God for what we do with those bodies. We are stewards of everything that God gives us; our bodies belong to Him, to be used for His glory. That is the Christian worldview position (in a tiny nutshell) as it relates to our persons.

What does not follow, though, is that we ought to make that belief binding upon others as a matter of law. The bodies of non-believers are not “temples of the Holy Spirit”. As a matter of law, a person’s body should be seen as belonging to himself. Before the law, a person should be seen as the “owner”, if you will, of his own body, with the ability before the law to make decisions related to that body. I’m not sure I’d make that an absolute right, but I’m not sure I wouldn’t, either. By the way, that basic right should not been seen as compelling others, in any way, to act against their own consciences (and seen as part of their bodies, the conscience ought to have freedom, logically). This means that even though a person might desire to commit suicide–and laws against suicide serve no purpose that I can see, other than to suggest societal disapproval of the action–that person cannot compel a doctor, say, to assist against his conscience in the performance of the deed.

Now, this sounds strangely like an argument you’ve heard from the pro-death side, doesn’t it? “I should have the right to an abortion because I have the right to do what I wish with my body!” But the problem is that there is another life to consider, the life of the unborn child. And if that is a human being–what else can it be?–then it must be afforded the protection of law.

Which leads to the general principle I’d advocate for making the distinction between what parts of our Christian worldview we ought to seek to incorporate into civil law, and which parts we ought not. Actually, this is a bit of a trial balloon, and I think I’ll amend this position if it doesn’t hold the water that it seems to hold to me. Submitted: When a given course of action impinges upon the legitimate human rights of another, no individual ought to be free to perform that action. However, when a given course of action does not harm the well-being (defined narrowly, by the way, meaning “real harm”, and not this touchy-feely nonsense promoted by the PC crowd) or infringe upon the rights of another, a person should be, before the law, free to engage in that action, even if it doesn’t morally pass muster for the Christian.

Yes, I recognize that that position opens the door to some things that we find distasteful, morally repugnant, even despicable–and yet if those things affect only the “doer(s) of the deed”, adults who willingly choose to engage in that action–then before the law, those things ought to be legal. Then, as Christ-followers, we argue, not for “morality” or “family values”, at least not first and foremost, but for the rule and reign of the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ, freely and volitionally submitted to by individuals.

What think ye?

30 responses »

  1. sherry says:

    I agree.

    So where you do see this in relation to the law and homosexual “marriage”?

  2. Don says:

    Any chance you have a biblical basis for any of this?

  3. Byron says:

    I’ll answer Sherry in this post, and Don in the next. Sherry, my position is that government ought to allow people to behave in whatever manner they see fit unless their behavior results in tangible harm to another person. That’s not the same as sanctioning a given behavior (in the sense of some “approval”; it isn’t the business of government to “approve” of lifestyle choices), and more germane, it doesn’t follow that government ought to take whatever living arrangements individuals want to pursue and put legal imprimatur upon those choices. Simply put, if two adults of the same sex want to live together, it isn’t the business of government to tell them they can’t, but neither is it the business of government to confer legal status to any/every particular arrangement that individuals might choose to come up with; i.e, “gay marriage”.

    One could argue, not without justification, that it oughtn’t be the business of government to be in the “marriage blessing” business at all; the issuance of “marriage licenses” by governmental entities is of relatively recent vintage in America. For the early part of our history, marriage was the domain of churches (not sure about justices of the peace…). But the fact that marriage has had a universal definition (with good reason that goes beyond the “religious”, though buttressed by every major “religion” in the world) would lend support to the idea that government might grant recognition of one-man, one-woman marriage, particularly given the clear and unmistakable societal benefits of marriage.

    That’s a bit of a digression, but the point is that it’s one thing to say the government oughtn’t criminalize consensual behavior between adults; it’s quite another to say that government is obligated to “bless” any particular arrangement, indeed every new arrangement sinful man can dream up, with its sanction.

  4. Byron says:

    Now to Don. My answers would be “yes”, “no”, and “the question’s a red herring”. The “yes” part would involve Romans 12:2, I Corinthians 6, etc., such as quoted above, as well as the multitude of Scriptural teachings that would point us to seeking justice, caring for the poor, the weak, children, etc.

    The “no” part would be that there are certainly positions which individuals take which aren’t easily tied to a Biblical proof text. For instance, is there a Biblical position on gun control, or the minimum wage? I’d suggest not, and the same could be said for many other issues. There are basic Scriptural principles which ought to apply, but good people can differ on policy issues; I’m not against the minimum wage because I find a Biblical reason why it’s wrong; I’m against it because I believe it ends up hurting people (so the Biblical principle would involve seeking the welfare of the poor, etc., but supporters of the minimum wage believe that it helps poor people. Seen in that light, two people might share the same basic concern, but have two opposite strategies to meet that concern. One can’t speak of “right” and “wrong” in the minimum wage debate; one can speak of what works, pragmatically-speaking).

    The second part of “no” is that I’d suggest that there is little difference between my position, and the “Biblical rationale” underlying it, and a “conservative” position, and the rationale underlying it. If we can find a Biblical basis for basic human freedoms, I’d use that same reasoning for my position. I can find, in Scriptural teaching related above, a rationale for restricting people’s freedom when others are harmed; that’d be the same as a “conservative” approach. Really, it doesn’t seem to me to come down to some different Biblical reasoning; it comes down to how far we take freedom, how consistent we’ll be in applying that reasoning.

    The “red herring” part is that the question seems to assume that there is a “Biblical basis” for, what, a “conservative” position that differs from my (assumedly non-Biblical) more libertarian position. I reject that assumption. The conservative position, which I largely agree with, of course, allows for significant freedoms of individuals, but at points (which I would argue are somewhat inconsistent/arbitrary) restricts those freedoms. Just one “for instance”: we have freedom in this country, currently, to smoke 4 packs of cigarettes a day, and to drink ourselves into oblivion each night so long as we do it in the privacy of our own homes. We do not have the freedom to smoke a single joint (not that I have any intent of doing so, or of encouraging anyone else to do so!). Now, no conservative I know of is clamoring for “prohibition” regarding alcohol or cigarettes, yet most would agree with the ban on marijuana. If you ask for a Biblical basis for my position, I’d ask for a Biblical rationale for restricting marijuana, but not tobacco or alcohol. See my point? And I think that there are many instances of such “arbitrary inconsistency” in what we call “conservatism” today; I’ve advocated what seems to me to be a consistent libertarian stance.

    The truth is that we can’t, and shouldn’t want to try to, make every action that is sinful, illegal. How do we choose which ones? What is our basis? And is it consistent, or arbitrary? And can a case be made that the “conservative way” is Biblically-based in a way that a more libertarian approach is not? Do remember this: the libertarian approach to freedom does not in any way, shape, or form deal with the morality of a specific action. It does not declare those actions “good”; it only says that people should be free to make their own choices so long as those choices do not harm others, but also (and here’s a concept for ya!) that people making those free choices ought to be held responsible for the consequences of them. Become a druggie? Your choice! But don’t come to the government for some big-dollar treatment program if you do. Sleep around? Your choice! But you don’t get money from the government for your irresponsible lifestyle. Freedom, responsibility, and personal accountability; you gotta love it.

    So…I’d turn the challenge back to you: find a Biblical basis for the specific restrictions that conservatives would back, but that libertarians would not. There might well be one; I’m just not sure what that’d be.

  5. Don says:

    Should Christians seek to impose their moral values on our civil laws? Here are some biblical principles to consider.

    We know that man is spiritually depraved. “There is none righteous.” “There is none who does good.” This suggests two things. Apart from divine wisdom man is incapable of discerning right from wrong. Apart from divine intervention man is incapable of inhibiting his inevitable demise.

    We also know that as followers of Jesus Christ “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” we are urged to “shine as lights in the world”, be “the salt of the earth”, and “love your neighbor”. This suggests some things as well. First, if we truly love someone we will not stand idly by and allow them to destroy themselves. We will take measures to try and inhibit or avert their destruction. Second, as the keepers of the secrets of God, believers have the necessary wisdom to enable society to craft just laws that will protect its citizens and to some degree inhibit moral degradation. The bottom line is this. Without the influence of Christian morality society has no basis for righteousness and justice and will ultimately crumble. History has proven this to be true.

    So then from a Christian worldview to what degree should a just government interfere in the private lives of its citizen, to not only provide protection from one another, but to also provide protection from themselves? Is it wrong for example for motorcycle riders to be required to wear a helmet? Should seatbelts and child safety seats be required by law? These are instances in which the law intervenes to protect citizens from themselves resulting in thousands of saved lives. The libertarian would say that these laws are unjust, but how does that square with the wisdom of God?

    Something else to consider. A given course of action may not directly harm the well-being or infringe upon the rights of another, but it may still be indirectly harmful in the moral decay that it brings to society. I would argue that this is the biblical basis for at least some of the specific restrictions conservatives would back, but that libertarians would not (i.e. prostitution, marijuana, drugs, etc.). I’m not saying it’s consistent, so please don’t use the alcohol and tobacco argument. I’m simply saying that I believe there is a biblical basis for implementing restrictions on actions that cause personal harm and contribute to moral decay.

  6. Byron says:

    OK, that’s reasonable. Let me ruminate and get back atcha.

  7. Byron says:

    Don,

    First, I agree with your Scriptural analysis on all points, of course. Let me take up the points of contention I see:

    “if we truly love someone we will not stand idly by and allow them to destroy themselves. We will take measures to try and inhibit or avert their destruction.” Actually, I have no problem with the contention, but the question is, “what means do we employ to accomplish this?”

    Further, you say, from a Christian worldview to what degree should a just government interfere in the private lives of its citizen, to not only provide protection from one another, but to also provide protection from themselves? Is it wrong for example for motorcycle riders to be required to wear a helmet? Should seatbelts and child safety seats be required by law? These are instances in which the law intervenes to protect citizens from themselves resulting in thousands of saved lives. The libertarian would say that these laws are unjust, but how does that square with the wisdom of God?

    I would not agree totally with what you just suggested. I believe that the principle I articulated earlier, where a person’s liberty should stop only when it infringes upon another person’s liberty/safety, would argue in favor of protections for children; i.e., safety seats or what have you. It may be that I differ from standard libertarian thinking on this point; fine. I think that the government has a role to play in ensuring certain reasonable standards of safety with regard to minors, those incapable of making rational decisions for themselves. But I do believe that it’s none of the government’s business whether I wear a seatbelt or a motorcycle helmet (though it’s stupid, IMHO, not to!). My rationale is that this thinking, the government taking on the role of “nanny”, is a difficult thing to stuff back into the bag once the principle has been established that it’s the government’s role to insist that we do what we ought to have the good sense to do. I’m not sure “unjust” would be the word I’d use, but certainly “government overreach”. Conservatives (rightly) blanch at the idea of the PC thought police, the “fat police”, and the like, but the fair question is, what’s different, once we assign to the government the role that we ought, as responsible adults, to take for our own lives?

    Further yet, I appreciate your admitting that your viewpoints aren’t consistent, but I must protest that consistency is at least one important facet of this discussion. Could we go to the Bible, to our Christian worldview, and therein find an argument that says we ought to allow alcohol and tobacco, but not marijuana? It seems to me rather that your argument is consistent with the status quo in American society, but not, per se, with Scriptural revelation (unless you have a further argument to make). Your challenge to me was to ask what Biblical basis I had for suggesting certain things that I’d advocate to expand freedoms; I throw the challenge back to you to explain how, Biblically, we pick and choose which things to make illegal, and which to allow people the freedom to choose. Pornography? Strip clubs? Predatory (“payday”) lenders? “Rent-to-own” ripoff joints (that do a lot more harm than people not wearing motorcycle helmets)? The lottery? Wait, I’m against the lottery (because it involves the state sponsoring a poverty-inducing, lie-ridden vice). Prostitution? Free sex? All of these and many more represent examples of things that lead to moral decay, increased poverty, and societal problems, but which actions ought to be illegal and which ought to be legal?

    But really, the deepest question here is this: what are the means by which a Christ-follower seeks to bring Scriptural principles to bear upon society? Is it through legislation that would place an external conformity upon adults, or is it through persuasion of others to submit themselves to Christ? See, here’s the big problem I have: liberals use the exact same line of reasoning all the time, mistaking the government’s role (IMHO). You hear it with regularity: “the Christian thing to do is to support the poor, and that’s why I vote Democrat, because the Democrats believe that we should help the poor”, or some such poppycock like that. No…that confuses the roles that individuals and churches ought to play with the role government ought to play. Jesus nowhere suggested that the government ought to drag out of people money to give to the poor; He rather advocated that His followers voluntarily care for others. Liberals smuggle government into the role that Jesus meant to be occupied by individuals acting freely. Does your reasoning at points make the same error?

    Back atcha…

  8. Don says:

    First, let me be clear. I wasn’t trying to say that my viewpoints aren’t consistent, only their application in law. How biblically do we pick and choose which things to make illegal and which to allow people the freedom to choose? I don’t have a hard and fast answer for you. But I do know there are certain behaviors that are more destructive to a society then others and a just society should at least begin there.

    What are the means by which a Christ-follower seeks to bring scriptural principles to bear upon society? As I’ve already mentioned, without the influence of Christian morality society has no basis for righteousness and justice. Obviously some degree of legislative influence is, therefore, necessary, but the power of the gospel is without question a fare superior influence.

    Your example of the liberal redistribution of wealth seems a bit off topic though. I’m not suggesting at all that we “smuggle government into the role that Jesus meant to be occupied by individuals acting freely.” I’m just saying that as Christ followers we are called to be a positive influence on society.

  9. Byron says:

    I guess, Don, that that is part of my dilemma, the fact that there isn’t a “hard and fast answer” to the question. I agree, of course, with your characterization of some things as being harmful to society, and with your analysis of the relevant Scripture. When it comes down to it, your rationale seems to hinge upon perceived “destructiveness to society”. OK, maybe that’s not a bad place to be, if you’re not going to go for my consistent “harm to individuals” line. A fair question I’d have then would be, are the things which we deem harmful enough to outlaw truly worse blights on society than the ones most of us accept as being legal (if not moral)? My contention would be that we have a hodge-podge at the moment, that, for instance, our war on drugs is massively counterproductive to society (see my more recent post; read that argument with an open mind!), while there are things we allow which do more harm to society.

    I also agree with your idea about the influence of Christian morality in law. We have laws against murder, rape, theft, etc., a whole raft of others, which can trace roots back to the Bible. The question is merely “which do we enact into law?” Remember, you laid down the challenge to support Biblically my semi-libertarian positions; I’m just saying that it’s not particularly easy to justify either your position or mine from a strictly Biblical standpoint (good men can disagree as to the extent to which Biblical standards ought to be placed into civil law).

    I agree we are to be a positive influence on society, but that’s where I’d put it: we are to have a positive influence on society. To make laws requiring the submission of non-Christian to certain of the tenets of our faith strikes me as employing government to do our particular bidding, just as liberals attempt to employ government to feed the poor, which Jesus never suggested government existed to do (but which we as Christ-followers ought to do, a prime example of “using our influence”). That was the analogy I was trying to draw.

    It is an interesting subject, that’s for sure.

  10. Byron says:

    Oh, stink, one more thing: I’d just suggest that it’s mighty, mighty hard to really, accurately determine the real societal impact of any given sin. One college kid relaxes in his dorm room with a doob, and he mellows for the evening. One Wall Street broker fudges the truth a bit, and millions are negatively impacted. You know what I’m saying? It hasn’t negatively impacted myself or my kids (so that I can tell) that brothels are legal in some Nevada counties (of course, it might more so if I lived in Nevada!). What does negatively impact all of us are the myriad sex-ridden commercials on TV, at checkout lines, indeed all around us.

    That’s not really a big argument against your position; I just think that it isn’t nearly so easy a task, determining real societal impact, as we might think at first blush, and if that’s the approach that you think we ought to take, I think that some of the assumptions we make about societal impact need to be re-thought very carefully.

  11. With regard to the following from your post:

    “When a given course of action impinges upon the legitimate human rights of another, no individual ought to be free to perform that action. However, when a given course of action does not harm the well-being (defined narrowly, by the way, meaning “real harm”, and not this touchy-feely nonsense promoted by the PC crowd) or infringe upon the rights of another, a person should be, before the law, free to engage in that action, even if it doesn’t morally pass muster for the Christian.”

    Since you are suggesting a means of determining the law, it will be necessary to define your terms. So, who will determine ” the legitimate human rights of another” and/or “real harm”? And, how will those things be determined? Thanks!

    Bob McCluskey

  12. Byron says:

    Bob,

    First, thanks for joining the discussion with a pertinent comment! It’s always nice to have a discussion rather than a dialogue (which itself beats a monologue, but I digress).

    Obviously, the determinations would ultimately be made by legislatures/Congress, those in a representative republic tasked with making such decisions. That’s pretty straightforward, if that’s what you’re asking. I’m not totally sure it is, though, so I’ll give my response as to what those parameters ought to involve (and this is a work in progress, so I might “tweak” it if you or Don or whomever calls me on something).

    “Real harm” would involve, of course, physical harm, or potential physical harm, to “innocents” (the use of seat belts has been shown to save lives; children I’d define as “innocents”; government can legitimately mandate, I believe and probably contrary to pure libertarianism, safeguards of such type for minors). I use the term
    “real harm” to separate it from some of the psychobabble ideas which imagine all sorts of victims and means of inflicting psychological “harm” on people, like the art student who drew Jesus and was reprimanded recently because it might “offend” someone.

    The Declaration spells out “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”; we could quibble over that “pursuit of happiness” phraseology, but basically, people ought to be free to “do their thing” so long as “doing their thing” doesn’t impede the legitimate ability of others to “do their thing”. Again, I argue this from a legal standpoint, not from the standpoint of how people ought to behave (it ought to be about a whole lot more than “me doing my thing”, but we persuade people of that, rather than demand compliance at the point of a gun).

    Pornography, as disgusting as it is, ought to be legal if all parties involved are consenting adults. Child pornography ought not, because a minor is involved. Sexual activity of whatever sort ought to be legal, again if engaged in by consenting adults; any forced sexual activity, or that involving minors, ought not.

    Does that answer the question, or is there more I need to amplify?

  13. Thanks for your quick and thoughtful response.

    I have another question related to:

    “Obviously, the determinations would ultimately be made by legislatures/Congress, those in a representative republic tasked with making such decisions.”

    If these parties enact into law “some of the psychobabble ideas which imagine all sorts of victims and means of inflicting psychological “harm” on people” how should we as Christians, respond?

    Another question, related to:

    “Pornography, as disgusting as it is, ought to be legal if all parties involved are consenting adults.”

    Consider this scenario: I am a publisher of pornography. I publish my wares in such a way that it will inevitably be viewed by another individual with a psychological predilection toward sexually harming people when aroused by pornography. My question: Are we two the only parties involved in this pornography?

    If your answer is “yes,” consider this scenario: I become aware that two of my neighbors are drunk and stalking one another with loaded firearmsnear my home , with the stated intent to kill each other at the first opportunity. I have children who are accustomed to playing outside. Are my two neighbors the only parties involved in their dispute?

    Bob

  14. Graham says:

    I have several thoughts on this, probably not fully consistent with each other!

    “No man is an island.” I wonder whether it is possible for someone to do something which has absolutely no impact on anyone else.

    Someone might smoke or inject illicit drugs. These have to come from somewhere, and so, even if all drugs were legalised, there would still be the chain from grower to user. And, these are normally grown in poorer countries, and are effectively a “cash crop.” Hence, the land used for growing drugs isn’t being used for growing food for the family, the village, the community..

    Euthanasia is the common “I own my body. It’s my choice” example. But, again, this has an impact on other people- you can either have a society which has euthanasia or one which doesn’t.

    Not all “euthanasia” in the Netherlands is actually at the patient’s wishes. In that case, there is one person who can prove that the patient didn’t want to be killed off- and that one person has been killed.

    And moreover, a society with euthanasia sends out the message that there are lives which are not worth living. There will be weak and vulnerable people who will pick up the message that they have a “duty” not to “be a burden” to their family, to the health system.

    One problem with bringing the concept of “harm” into this issue is that it is hard to know what might be found to be harmful.

    The British Government is currently looking at reforming the charity laws, and one thing which was amusing to read about was one former charity, early to mid 20th century, which had one interesting role- to raise money to provide cigarettes for wounded soldiers in hospitals! At the time nicotine was seen as harmless. Go back to the 1960s and drink driving wasn’t taken seriously- and there are probably things today that we think do no harm to the person doing it, nor to other people, which are dangerous.

  15. Byron says:

    Bob, to your first question, we as Christians ought to vigorously fight against such laws, ridiculous as they are on their faces, and arbitrary as they’d almost certainly be in their application. If enacted, we’d have to weigh whether obeying those laws constituted violating God’s law; ex., a preacher would have to weigh the Bible’s teaching against, say, homosexuality, and then “obey God rather than men.”

    To the pornography question, I see your argument, and it’s not without merit. My answer would be that when I say we have laws against harming other people, I mean to say we have seriously, real laws of significant consequence (as we ought to have currently!). But by the same token, we’ve gotten ahold of a silly notion that the purveyor of a certain commodity bears responsibility for its misuse, and I think that’s a problem. Ford isn’t responsible if I drive their cars 100 MPH and kill somebody in the process, or at least Ford oughtn’t be. Yes, Ford manufactures the car, and a certain percentage of people buying those cars are speed demons, but Ford shouldn’t be held responsible for the misuse of the car, even though if there were no cars, there’d be no vehicular deaths. Remington isn’t responsible if I take a gun and shoot someone with it. Yes, Remington might have manufactured the gun, and yes, a certain tiny percentage of people who purchase guns might have homicidal tendencies, but Remington can’t be held responsible, even though if there were no guns, there’d be no gun deaths. Similarly, a certain percentage of porn viewers might take their proclivity to a destructive end, but does that mean the pornographer is responsible? His business is a slimy one, no question; these are scum of the earth people. But I believe that freedom of the press ought to be just that: freedom, unless of course it falls outside the lines I’ve already suggested.

    And so yes, technically, the two neighbors are the only two involved in the dispute, per se. That said, if I’m aware of this situation, I exercise much precaution, recognizing the high degree of risk that my kids would assume by venturing outdoors. Just like we put pornography filters on our computers, seat belts in our cars, and safeties on our guns.

    It’s impossible to craft a free society that is a danger-free society. Stuff happens. It’s a question of how much we restrict freedom in the name of safety, and also on what basis we justify so doing.

    By the way, in some of these cases, I’m truly “trying them on for size”, and I remain open to reconsidering some of this. I hope we all are! Graham next…

  16. Byron says:

    Graham,

    You’re right (and so is Donne); no man is an island, but I’m not saying “no impact”; I’m really speaking of real, tangible (negative) impact to a degree that justifies restricting freedoms.

    Euthanasia is a sticky wicket, I’d admit. If it’s just “suicide” we’re talking about, laws against that seem futile to me. If it’s “assisted suicide”, that brings another agent into it, and I’m really…well, I don’t like it at all. Perhaps that’s inconsistent on my part, I don’t know. Maybe this becomes another point at which I part company with libertarians. I’ll have to mull it.

    The Netherlands argument relies on slippery slope thinking, and I’d put laws into place to prohibit forcible taking of life there (to the degree possible). And to answer the question of life becoming worthless to live, Christians call that the lie that it is, and affirm a strong ethic of life.

    Gonna mull…

  17. Derlin says:

    The discussion has been interesting thus far, and I’m sure it will continue to be.

    I wonder if we need to distinguish between a Christian theocratic government and a secular “just” government (presumably with Christians in various roles, but not necessarily all roles).

    In a Christian theocracy, the Bible would be the ultimate rule, and any law enacted would have to have biblical support. Here, laws could regulate behavior that comes between consenting adults, even if that behavior would generally not be considered harmful to outside parties. While people living there wouldn’t necessarily be Christian, they would be well aware that biblical principles, both moral and religious would apply.

    A secular government may choose to use biblical principles in its laws, but the government itself would essentially be agnostic. No deity or religious text would trump others when it came to interpreting which actions are wrong, since they would be using the harm test Byron described above. People would be free to follow a religion of their choosing so long as they did not infringe upon the freedom of others. The freedom of choice here naturally permits society to engage in behavior that may cause corruption, simply because it is not perceived as harmful to others. I don’t see a governmental way to mitigate this risk short of switching to a theocracy based around some religious interpretation of what is right and wrong. Those who are concerned with the accountability of society can proceed the same way Jesus taught by building relationships with others and pointing them to God. Then the church can spread the principles that make a life pleasing to God.

    A speaker in a video blog once pointed out that the lost will seek out evil regardless of whether the law permits it. It is in their nature, so enacting a law to restrict it can be a fruitless endeavor.

  18. Graham says:

    There is a middle way between the theocracy and the secular government.

    There are two approaches:
    (i) Establishment
    (ii) Christian Democracy

    —-

    With establishment there will be a state church- this doesn’t mean that the church is run by the state. In the case of the Church of England, this means that there are the 2 Archbishops and 24 other bishops sitting, as of right, in the House of Lords, with the same right to speak, vote and introduce legislation as everyone else in the House of Lords.

    The Church of Scotland is established differently. After the Reformation the church and government were seen as sovereign in their own areas of life, and so there was a sense that the Church is there to be the conscience of the nation, that its role includes advising the government on the morality of government actions.

    Both forms of establishment give a special place to “the church”- either playing a legislative or an adivsory role denied to non-Christian faiths (and indeed, denied to Roman Catholicism).

    When secularists argue for the removal of bishops and archbishops from the House of Lords, they often say that there have been cases where the “lords temporal” (i.e. the members of the House of Lords who are not bishops) have had a majority in favour of a piece of “progressive” legislation, and the bishops turn up, vote against, and the legislation is lost. In recent history there is no example of this happening, and the secularists are never able to provide genuine examples.

    —–

    The second approach is the political philosophy of “christian democracy” based around 6 principles. This has led to the Christian Democrat parties- the most prominent being in Germany and Italy, although it has to be said that the Italian one lost its way and saw electoral collapse.

  19. Bob Robinson says:

    Byron,
    As an Area Director with the CCO, a leading campus ministry in the tradition of “worldview discipeship” that flows from the Dutch Calvinism of Abraham Kuyper, I’d like to weigh in on this.
    Kuyper offered the seminal articulation of the Christian Worldview. It was articulated as “Creation / Fall / Redemption.” Everything in a Christian Worldview should flow out of this – That God created the world a certain way (with order, justice, and Shalom peace) God gave the mandate (before the Fall) to take what God has given us and create our culture. Human beings have rebelled against God’s will and therefore we have disorder, injustice, and sin. Our selfishness twists the Cultural Mandate. God’s plan is to get humanity on the right track again trough the redemption that comes through Jesus Christ.

    Now, with this as the basis for any Worldview discussion, I am intrigued that your starting point is “our bodies belong to Him, to be used for His glory,” and that, what follows is that the purpose of civil law is to ensure that “a person’s body should be seen as belonging to himself. Before the law, a person should be seen as the ‘owner’, if you will, of his own body, with the ability before the law to make decisions related to that body.”

    That is not how I would articulate the Christian Worldview’s starting point. I would say that the starting point is Order, Justice, Shalom – all of which are relational concepts.

    Forgive me if this is not accurate, but it seems that the worldview you are advocating is more John Locke’s worldview than the biblical one.

    I am not my own. I am to honor God with my body. This is certainly true in sexual ethics. But is it true across the board? Law began with that first story of murder in Genesis. Cain was wrong to think that he was not his brother’s keeper. Our understanding of civil law must have at its starting point not individual rights but the common good.

    For more about the Kuperian Worldview, see my website, Friend of Kuyper. I’ve linked to plenty of on-line articles that will help us understand what a “Christian Worldview” is and how to apply it.

  20. Don says:

    Bob,

    Now we’re talkin’! This is a line of thinking that definitely needs further exploring. I for one am struggling with how lib

  21. Don says:

    Sorry. To continue…

    I for one am struggling with how classic libertarian politics harmonizes with a truly Christian worldview. Bob, if I understand you correctly, it sounds like you’re saying it doesn’t.

  22. Byron says:

    I’d like to draw the distinction between a Christian worldview, which gives us as believers the lens through which to view the world, and the appropriate role of civil government, a government which serves all people in its citizenry. I again affirm the Lordship of Christ over all of life, but some of the things that are being offered sound more like a theocratic approach to government than anything else. And by the way, I’m not up on my John Locke, so forgive me.

    I’m concerned by this whole “common good” idea, not because I believe it doesn’t exist, but because the slippery slope to where the civic enactment of it leads is a dead-end road, I fear. All sorts of atrocities can be committed, and have been, in the name of the “common good” (think “communism”). Of course, I’m not saying you’re a Communist, Bob, merely suggesting that this “common good” notion opens a Pandora’s box, it seems to me. I believe that government has a lousy track record when it comes to putting into place laws promoting the “common good” (doesn’t every conservative believe that? Remember Reagan’s adage: “the scariest sentence in the English language is, ‘we’re from the government, and we’re here to help'”.), because all too often the “common good” ends up restricting freedom in the name of some government-sanctioned program that isn’t good at all; i.e., the “common good” isn’t often very good!

    The problem for my conservative friends–and I consider myself one, by the way, a conservative with strong libertarian leanings–is that we currently have such a pick-and-choose approach to policy. We restrict some things (in the name of the “common good”) and allow other things that are more harmful to the “common good” than some of the things we restrict. We generally come down on the side of “freedom” (we love our Bill of Rights!), and yet at some points–points which often seem arbitrary when looked at from a detached point of view–we swoop in and argue vehemently for government to restrict freedom. In Georgia, for instance, the conservative, Republican-controlled legislature continues to refuse to allow the people of GA to vote on whether stores should be allowed to sell alcohol on Sundays. It’s a silly argument; it’s making Christians look stupid; it’s totally arbitrary and counterproductive (people can drive to restaurants and drink–and then drive home!–but they can’t buy a bottle of wine at Kroger and take it home and drink it. Duh????).

    If “conservative” is shorthand for “what we’re doing now, plus restricting abortion”, say, then it’s just not very compelling to me, and while it might be preferred by many, can’t really be called, properly, the legislative enactment of a “Christian worldview”. And slice it how you will, that’s effectively what I hear my conservative friends saying. I’ve offered a consistent approach. It might be the wrong one–I’m reminded of the quote by Emerson that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds”, a quote I like for several reasons, not the least of which is that I think “hobgoblin” is a cool word–but at least it’s consistent. My contention is that if we were to start from scratch in articulating a Christian worldview vis a vis government, and got down to the question, “what things should be restricted in a government run on Christian principles”, we might not come up with my list, but I’m darn sure we’d not come up with “the status quo plus restricting abortion–oh, yeah, and the lottery”.

  23. Don says:

    “I may be wrong but conservatives are more wrong” isn’t much of an argument. When it comes to formulating a Christian worldview of politics maybe “starting from scratch” isn’t such a bad idea. As I recall everyone doing what is right in his own eyes is a system that’s already been tried and I’m pretty sure it’s never really worked out all that well. Rather than trying to justify the wisdom of human reasoning wouldn’t it make better sense to begin with the wisdom of God and use that as the standard for our politics? If a Christian worldview is so “vitally important to living the Christian life” then shouldn’t we begin with principles found in God’s word?

    Here are a few thoughts to consider:

    If it weren’t for sin there would be no need for government. It is sin that creates the need for law and order.

    All authority of earthly governments originates from the sovereignty of God. Man would have no authority over his fellow man unless it were expressly given to him by God.

    Therefore, because of sin it is God who has established the authority of government.

    So with that mind, what civil laws do you think would be in keeping with God’s holy standard of law and order? Maybe if we were to begin by answering that question we might be a little closer to having the proper “lens” through which to view our politics.

  24. Bob Robinson says:

    Don,
    I agree with you that we need to start with the Bible to first form a Christian Worldview and then, and only then, can we begin to create a political philosophy.

    And it is exactly here that I challenge your line of thought: I don’t believe that the Bible teaches that “If it weren’t for sin there would be no need for government. It is sin that creates the need for law and order.”

    The human race was created as relational beings, made in the image of the Trinitarian God, who exists in mutual, loving fellowship among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are made for mutual interdependence. Even without sin and The Fall, the developing human community would have needed cooperative efforts and leaders to organize those cooperative endeavors. Our first command was the Cultural Mandate of Genesis 1, and in order to exercise dominion and stewardship, in order to create culture and civilization, we would have needed governmental organization.

    In other words, I think that the role of government is not simply the negative task of restraining evil (which is true because of the Fall), but also the positive task of working for the common good (which would have been the case with or without the Fall).

    Revelation says that kings will “bring their splendor” and “the glory and honor of the nations” into the New Jerusalem, which should inform us that the political enterprise has intrinsic merit apart from the effects of sin (see Revelation 21:24-26)

  25. Byron says:

    Bob,

    I’m with Don on this one, and here’s why (though the theoretical nature of “if there weren’t a Fall” threatens to derail the conversation into mere hypotheticals): what “bad” would there be, sans the fall, such that government would be needed in order to seek the common good? Would the “good” have to be “worked for” if there were no such thing as sin? Perhaps you have an answer that’ll change my opinion, but from where I sit, I don’t see it. Government/laws would seem to be in place precisely because people are law-breakers in such a way as to be injurious to their fellow man; can you envision any law that exists for which this is not the case? I’m just asking for one, and I’m doubtful you can come up with it, but hey, I’ve been wrong before (or at least, so I’m told by Don)… 🙂

  26. Don says:

    Bob,

    Perhaps I have over stated my case. My point is that without sin there would be no need for rule of law, that negative role of government, as you put it, for restraining evil. No judges, no police, no armies, no navies, no regulatory agencies, no speed limits, no IRS…you get the picture. So the question still stands. Since the negative role of government does exist by the sovereign ordinance of God, what civil laws do you think would be in keeping with God’s holy standard of law and order?

  27. Byron says:

    Now to Don: the “I’m wrong” is merely an attempt to suggest that there exists a possibility, however scant, that…I’m…wrong! 🙂

    Seriously, “I’m may be wrong but conservatives are more wrong” misstates my argument. I believe I’m right on this–but then again, doesn’t everybody? What I’m searching for is “compelling consistency”, the kind of Christian-worldview-derived ethic as applied to government whereby we can present a compelling case to others due to a consistent application of Biblical principle. Now…I do think that we’re in a state of “always seeking, never arriving” with regard to this area, in part because there are some policy initiatives/laws that are in opposition to each other, both trying to achieve the same end, and which we should choose between on the basis of pragmatics, for lack of a better term.

    Case in point: the minimum wage. I believe that its very existence harms the poor, that the minimum wage ought to be $0.00. I believe that the economic facts bear out that belief. I don’t believe, though, that a person who believes it ought to be $5.75, or $7.00, or $38.00/hour, is wrong in that belief, but merely that those viewpoints are, to one degree or another, harmful. I believe that this is the case with a lot of things; frankly, the issue of the legalization of marijuana falls under this category (just like alcohol, cigarettes, and the most addicting and dangerous drug of them all, television–and by the way, I’m not kidding about that).

    I suppose it could be argued…yep, I’ll argue it!…that what I’m trying to do is to get people who try to hold to a Christian worldview to do just what you suggested: think! Albeit, I’m doing it in a bit of a piecemeal kind of way, instead of going back to the basics, the start, but I’d be game for that, and yet, because as I’ve said above, when it comes to certain specifics, the argument will head toward pragmatics, I’m not sure we’ll ever achieve consensus. But at the very least, as iron sharpens iron, we ought to be willing to discuss these issues and learn from each other. You’ve learned some from me through the years, Don, and I from you, and from where I sit, that’s a good thing.

    Now pass the bong. 🙂

  28. Don says:

    Byron,

    And I suppose what I’m attempting to argue is that a Christian worldview ought to have at least a modicum of grounding in the wisdom of God. If libertarianism has that then I’d sure like to hear it.

  29. Byron says:

    First, I’m going to award you 15 points for the use of the word “modicum”. Congratulations; one of my favorite words.

    That “modicum” of grounding is not, it seems to me, difficult to provide. We believe, as Christians (and as conservatives), in basic human rights, basic human freedoms, a theme which seems to me (and to you, I’m sure) to be amply illustrated in Scripture. Unjust rulers are consistently excoriated in Scripture because they ill-treat people and subvert justice. Egyptian bondage is portrayed as a bad thing, something from which God went to great lengths to free His people. Speaking of Christians, it’s for freedom that Christ set us free, Paul says. Going back as far as creation, Adam was given freedom by God to do anything he darn well pleased, except for that pesky tree thing. 🙂

    The point is that it seems clear to me Scripturally that freedom is the preferred/intended state of man. Yes, there is a role for civil government, as libertarians would all agree; Paul indicates that the government exists to punish evildoers (Romans 13), a position entirely consistent with libertarianism. But the Biblical underpinnings of a libertarian approach–which seeks to maximize freedom, of course–would be the very same as that of the conservative approach in this respect: the Bible would support a significant level of freedom for the individual. We have no argument on that point; we really are discussing the extent to which we take that Biblical viewpoint, that’s all.

    And that’s where I think a good bit of pragmatism comes in. Contemporary conservatives tend to differ with liberals, on so many issues, only by a matter of degree. I illustrate:

    It’s not whether Social Security is a good or bad thing; it’s how big a bite the government takes.

    It’s not whether it’s the role of the government to educate children; it’s how much money we spend, how much freedom we give to parents who believe it’s their role instead of the government’s, etc.

    It’s not the concept of eminent domain; it’s the “abuse” of eminent domain (whatever that means, and for what it’s worth, even saying this, I’m not entirely comfortable with the libertarian position).

    It’s not welfare-type programs; it’s how they are administered.

    It’s not the income tax and the IRS; it’s the chunk that’s taken.

    I could go on, but the point for me is this: I first began to question a lot of my conservative approach 14 years ago, on the way to a PromiseKeepers conference, when one of the guys in the car (hint: he plays in our Armchair Football League) hit me with the libertarian approach, and after arguing several issues with him, I realized this: I was consistently, on every point, defending big government. That made me squirm, big-time, and helped me realize that on most issues, what I say now is true: the difference between today’s “conservatives” and today’s “liberals” is, for the most part though not in every way, a matter of degree.

    Hash that one over for a bit, and maybe you’ll see what I mean…that’s what I did, and that’s what got me thinking.

  30. Bob Robinson says:

    Byron and Don,

    Let me be clear. While I believe that Scripture teaches that Statecraft is a good, God-ordained thing (and not just a result of the Fall), my Kuyperian Worldview also suggests that government must be limited. As Paul Marshall writes in God and the Constitution: Christianity and American Politics (you really SHOULD buy this and read it!),

    “Governments are to do justice, but it is not their job to try to correct and control every relationship; after all, everyone is also supposed to do justice. Hence, a key question is when governments should, and should not, use their authority and power. Governments do not have the authority to do anything that they might feel like. It is vital that they be kept in their proper place since, in the Scriptures as elsewhere, there is a repeated refrain concerning the dangers of over-powerful and overreaching government authority.” (p. 59)

    “Responsibility and authority are not channeled through any single institution. Neither the Emperor, nor an apostle, nor a parent, nor a husband or wife can claim to be the only or the ultimate authority. Each and all have the responsibility, and therefore the authority that goes with it, to do a particular task within the world. This diversity of responsibility reemphasizes that we should not think of politics as everything, or even the most important thing. We must no make it the center of life. It has only a particular responsibility for particular things, and it should not go beyond those bounds. We can delineate part of government’s role simply by realizing that there are other authorities such as churches, parents, or individuals, that have an authority, a right, not derived from government, and are therefore not disposable at government fiat. The authority of government ends where the authorities of others begin.” (p. 60)

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