Theology That Comes Out of Halter Tops PDF Print E-mail
Political Dualism - Dualism Is Bad JuJu
Written by Douglas Wilson   
Saturday, October 16, 2010 7:46 am

In the Introduction to Republocrat, Carl Trueman gives us the thesis of his book straight up front -- "that conservative Christianity does not require conservative politics or conservative cultural agendas" (p. xix). When Trueman moved from the UK to the United States, he records that he "suddenly found" himself "to be a man of the left" (p. xxiv). Nevertheless, he remains stoutly opposed to "abortion and gay marriage" (p. xix), and yet he is in favor of "gun control and nationalized health care" (p. xxv). So there you go.

In order to think straight about such things, it is important to say at the outset that Trueman is quite right to insist that conservative Christians ought not to be in thrall to whatever Fox News dubs to be conservative. Everything hinges on what it is you are conserving. Does conservative Christianity conserve theological truths only? Of course not -- there are cultural ramifications in what we believe, as Trueman himself notes on the pro-life issue and the gay marriage issue. But by this I certainly do not want to say that conservative theology requires me to sign up for the Fox News brand of conservatism, the one that wants to protect the right of top-heavy starlets to fall out of their dresses, a regular event that to Fox appears constantly newsworthy. They have a theology that comes out of their halter tops.

But since real theology comes out our fingertips, and whatever it is that is coming out our fingertips reveals our theology, conservative theology does require some form of conservative politics, and does require some form of a conservative cultural agenda. At the same time, because a conservative theology of Scripture will eventually result in a postmillennial eschatology (said the postmillennialist), this progressive aspect of theology will result in some form of progressive politics, and some form of a progressive cultural agenda. But what we conserve, and what we work to institute as progress, must all be governed by Scripture. We don't get to pick and choose from the smorgasbord staffed by from the lefties and righties.


So here is the central thing that we need to conserve (what we have of it), and progress toward (what we have not yet realized). We need to recognize that politics is necessarily coercive, and because coercion is a big deal, a Christian social order should want to strictly limit coercion to remain within the bounds assigned by Scripture. Unless I have a word from God, I don't want to make anybody do anything.

Because of this I am willing for tight abortion laws -- I am willing to make people not kill other people. Because of this I am not willing to allow a nebulous "concern for . . . poverty" (p. xxvii) to require us to throw economic realities overboard in a way that impoverishes a bunch of people. The man who considers the poor is blessed (Ps. 41:1), and the word for considers there means a practical, applied wisdom, of the kind that has studied real economics, and not that impulsive sentimentalism that wrecks livelihoods in the name of Jesus. In conserving free markets, we are preserving yesterday's progress, and are making more progress possible. But all of it, whether we are protecting or establishing, must be grounded in the lordship of Jesus Christ, and on His revealed Word.

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Rob Steele  Saturday, October 16, 2010 8:21 am
Amen. So, no to gun control and nationalized health care, right? Prof. Trueman is brilliant and delightful but I don't think he's quite got his head around this.
Bill Banting  Saturday, October 16, 2010 4:27 pm
Good points, Pr. Wilson, but i dont see how you can extrapolate to gun control and nationalized healthcare (assuming you do?) as essentially [i]unbiblical[/] positions, and not merely preferences that different countries can come by honestly.

In Canada, for example, we are quite happy not to be awash in guns, and happy to look out collectively for each others' physical well being. I'm not suggesting our preferences are best for all nations, but we really do prefer things this way -- plenty of polls available if you don't believe me. Your preferences as a nation may differ, but I doubt you'll convince me that your position on these issues is more biblical, in a universally applicable sense.

Apart from these specifics, i think i agree entirely with your post. :)

Douglas Wilson  Saturday, October 16, 2010 7:17 pm
Bill, my point was over coercion. When you say "our preferences," you are referring to the preferences of those in control who are willing to coercive others in the matter of gun ownership and tax levels to provide national health care. While I am willing to coercive someone with regard to their preferences for rape and murder, I am not willing to coerce them them in their preferences for keeping their own money, and buying a shotgun with their own money. In short, what are you willing to force other people to do, and why?
Bill Banting  Sunday, October 17, 2010 6:30 am
Pr Wilson, but you are willing to coerce people to surrender tax dollars for lots of things, the world's largest military budget an obvious example. Police and fire departments are another. We all need the same basic health care, in the same way that we all need the same basic protection from fire; how can you not allow that some nations may choose, honestly and by large majorities, to fund health care through collective taxation also?

As for gun control, I am no expert but surely the line has to be drawn and coercion/control applied somewhere. If not shotguns, what about assault rifles? Heavy machine guns? Tanks? It seems perfectly natural to me that different nations may draw this line at different places without becoming "less Biblical."

David DeJong  Sunday, October 17, 2010 12:40 pm
To say the issue is coercion is a red herring, in my opinion. Politics is not inherently coercive; rather, a state can equally be viewed as the freely chosen cooperation of citizens. From this perspective, the biblical requirement for the state as God's department of justice can be viewed a minimum but not necessary a maximum. That is, the state must at least bear the sword against wrong-doers. However, depending on the free cooperation of its citizens, a democratic state is also free to do much more (e.g. run a fire department, build roads, operate schools, etc.). If people have freely chosen to band together and form a state, and they want to each kick in some income to fund a fire department, there is nothing wrong with that.

On health care: the problem with making it a capitalist endeavor is that insurance companies are essentially betting against the effects of sin. Not a good bet. Therefore, expensive. More so than anywhere else in the developed world, in fact.

On gun control: the ease with which people can buy guns in America is troubling. How is it that a mentally troubled student who had seen psychologists for his depression was able to buy weapons immediately before the Virginia tech shooting? You don't have a problem with that? The so-called "right to bear arms" is written into the American self-identity: but it has no basis in Scripture, betrays a disturbing individualism, and has (unwittingly) encouraged vigilante justice and violence on a disturbing scale.
Benjamin P. Glaser  Sunday, October 17, 2010 12:53 pm
Just as an FYI the Virginia Tech shooter procured his guns illegally. More strict gun control laws would not have prevented that action.
David DeJong  Sunday, October 17, 2010 1:15 pm
I am aware that the VT shooter procured his guns illegally. My issue is more that the US is as a society lax on guns, which makes it much easier to obtain them here, whether legally or not.

Whether legislation is the answer or not is a good question. As Moses found out you can't reform a society by legislation. But you can try.
Benjamin P. Glaser  Sunday, October 17, 2010 1:51 pm
The problem is with how you phrased the comment on the VA Tech shooter. If the VA Tech shooter had followed the law already on the books he would not have been able to terrorize that day. Even more to the point mass shootings at schools have occurred in societies with far less gun ownership than the U.S.

If anything if schools allowed students to carry on their campus one of the students could have ended the rampage pretty quickly with a lot less loss of life.
David DeJong  Sunday, October 17, 2010 3:00 pm
The various examples of gun crime in the US could be debated endlessly. I am surprised that you simply say that the same has occurred elsewhere. Aren't you concerned about the number and intensity of the incidents in the US since 1999? Sure, it happens elsewhere, but it seems to be much less frequent and severe.

Your last comment is basically an argument for vigilante justice, which gets to the heart of the issue. Do you believe that the so-called "right to bear arms" is in fact biblical and just?
Melody  Sunday, October 17, 2010 5:33 pm
"Politics is not inherently coercive; rather, a state can equally be viewed as the freely chosen cooperation of citizens."

..."the freely chosen cooperation of citizens" ended long ago when congressional and other political districts became 'gerrymandered' so as to create specific voting blocks that are nearly impossible to overcome and keep liberal legislators in power.
Matt Weber  Monday, October 18, 2010 3:02 am
The government doesn't force you to do anything. If you don't like the law, you can either move somewhere where it doesn't apply (i.e. another state or country), obey it and do without whatever you wanted, or you can just break it and pay the price. This is essentially identical to the ways in which we can interact with the glorious free market. Think of speeding tickets as the price of going really fast, and taxes as the price of living in a relatively prosperous country like America.

You might complain though that this makes it impossible to force anyone to do anything...putting a gun to someone's head just means that you are 'charging' them their life for whatever it is you want them to do. Obviously that's absurd, but the whole point is that the libertarian myth that government is all about coercion is plainly false. There is no clear line in the sand (conveniently beginning right at the government!) where social arrangements become coerced rather than voluntary. Libertarians need to change their game, especially if they wish to invoke a text written thousands of years before their political philosophies came into existence.
Rob Steele  Monday, October 18, 2010 5:41 am
Matt, voluntary vs. compulsory is not hard to understand. I don't think you can fog it up.
Michael Duenes  - No coercion?  Monday, October 18, 2010 1:23 pm
I think it should be pointed out that the the price for disobeying the government is considerably more than the price for deciding to shop at Walmart rather than Kroegers. Of course at a fundamental level the government can't "force" me to do anything. But if I don't pay the IRS, I go to jail and they garnish my wages. If I don't give my money to Walmart, nothing happens to me. I'm not sure how these are the same.
David DeJong  Monday, October 18, 2010 5:29 pm
I too find the parallel between the government and the free market weak. However, Pastor Wilson's statement was that "politics is necessarily coercive," which seems to overbalance too far to the libertarian end of the spectrum. A state can be viewed as the freely chosen cooperation of its citizens. Of course, there is a sense in which democracy can become the "tyranny of the majority." But of the various political arrangements it would seem democracy is the least coercive, in the sense that the voters can vote for change.
Matt Weber  Tuesday, October 19, 2010 3:01 am
The price of disobeying the government is not always higher. Suppose the government instituted a 15 dollar fee on checked bags at the airport. This would be the same as if the airlines themselves did such a thing (as they all seem to have done); it would cost the same and there would be the same options for avoiding it, although it is functionally impossible to evade just the fee in either case. Yet, one of these is supposed to be horrible coercion and the other is just the free market in action. The point is not that no one can be coerced, but either both of these situations are coercive or neither is. There is no line in the sand starting at the government.

Jail time (or worse) is something different beyond a simple price, but very few crimes that a normal person might commit would ever land them in prison. Even the IRS doesn't usually send people to prison, it simply charges the back taxes + interest. The interest is just the price of avoiding taxes, and if you're lucky you won't have to pay either. With Obamacare, if you decide that health insurance isn't for you then you'll pay a fine (ah excuse me, 'forgo a tax deduction'), not go to jail. The point here is that, contra libertarian mythology, the US government really isn't itching to throw anyone in jail for disobeying its rules.

Libertarians need a redefinition of terms, but to do so would mean that they have to start talking in terms of real world consequences and benefits rather than the bogeymen of coercion and force. There are, of course, some nutty anarchists who deliberately seek to remove all rules, but normal people aren't interested in this.
Frank Golubski  Tuesday, October 19, 2010 3:30 pm
David: A state can be viewed as the freely chosen cooperation of its citizens.

Frank: Do you remember the Supreme Court's Kelo decision (, in which they decided that governments can use an anti-biblical legal theory known as "eminent domain" to confiscate private property merely to "enhance" the community's tax base? Where is the "freely chosen cooperation of its citizens" there?

David: Of course, there is a sense in which democracy can become the "tyranny of the majority."

Frank: Oh. You have heard of Kelo, then ...

David: But of the various political arrangements it would seem democracy is the least coercive, in the sense that the voters can vote for change.

Frank: But then again, maybe not.

Who was it that first observed, "Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what's for lunch"?