Zondervan, 2010. (Available in Australia at Koorong Books)
This volume is invaluable for at least two main reasons. It offers a careful and well-argued overview of the biblical view of politics and government, and it also offers detailed analysis of key political issues. And in this massive volume (well over 600 pages) a lot of solid material is presented.
Grudem admits that he leans to the conservative side of politics, but argues that he does so on the basis of what the Bible teaches, rather than as a preconceived position he holds to. But as this volume makes clear, he is not above criticising fellow conservatives when the need arises.
He also admits to not writing as a lecturer in politics, but as a New Testament professor. From a Christian point of view this is not a problem. Indeed, it seems to strengthen his hand. The volume is throughout a careful assessment of a whole range of political and social issues, but always with a view to understanding how Scripture addresses such concerns.
His opening chapters on general political principles as seen in the light of the Bible offer a number of helpful insights. He of course addresses key passages such as Romans 13:1-7, and looks at other controlling NT principles. He begins by looking at five wrong (or unbiblical) positions on government and political involvement.
These include the idea that believers have nothing to do with politics; that governments should exclude religion; and that we should view government as evil and demonic. After dealing with these positions, he seeks to lay out the biblical case for Christian social and political activity.
He argues for a properly understood separation of church and state, avoiding the errors of both a theocratic take on government, and an anarchistic approach. Believers are to be involved in government, while recognising that ultimately governments cannot save anyone.
But the state is instituted by God, and has clear – but rather limited – ends. Thus Grudem argues for a restricted form of governments, recognising that neither radical libertarianism nor stifling statism is the preferred model. He argues for the importance of liberty, but notes that it is not an absolute in itself, and must be limited to some extent in a fallen world.
These first 150 pages would alone be worth the price of the book, but he gets into the real world of politics in the remainder of the volume as he looks at numerous particular issues. These include economics, the protection of life, national security, marriage and family, freedom of religion, and environmental issues.
Consider the contentious issue of same-sex marriage. Grudem argues that governments have – according to Scripture -a primary responsibility to restrain evil, bring good to society, and promote social order. When it comes to marriage, evil is restrained when sexual faithfulness between a man and a woman is legally recognised and enforced.
Marriage brings good to society in promoting social stability and the well-being of children. And social order is maintained by clearly delineating the married from the non-married. There is no right to homosexual marriage to be found in the US Constitution, and there is no violation of human rights in keeping marriage a heterosexual institution.
The law does not prohibit others from marrying, it simply states what marriage is – the union of one man and one woman. He cites various court cases in which the limiting of marriage to opposite-sex couples is not seen as engaging in sex discrimination.
Or consider the specific issue of foreign aid. What is the scriptural position on this rather complex issue? Grudem argues that good intentions need to be assessed in the light of actual outcomes. Surely any concept of Christian compassion for the poor should result in policies which actually help the poor.
He notes that over a trillion dollars in Western aid has gone to poor nations. Yet numerous studies have demonstrated that such aid has in fact often been harmful rather than helpful. Not only does it tend to result in creating a culture of dependency, but most of the money will usually go to corrupt government officials rather than those who actually need it.
Leftist Christians will argue for debt forgiveness for these countries. But a careful look at such measures shows that they tend to be counter-productive. They often result in the perpetuation of corrupt and inefficient regimes. And they encourage future reckless borrowing, since the leaders know they may well get off the hook in the future.
And as is so often the case, the poor really benefit very little from such schemes. That is because the root causes which made for such poverty in the first place are not addressed. “Forgiving debt or giving aid may meet some short-term need, but it does not change the government corruption, oppression, and destructive economic policies”.
Plenty of other specific political and social issues are carefully and incisively discussed. Grudem then finishes by offering some concluding observations, including the role of the believer in the governmental process. He reminds us that while God rules over the nations, he uses his people to accomplish his ends.
He reminds us that we have a role to play to be salt and light in our communities, and that includes political and social involvement at all levels. He offers the example of Wilberforce and others as those who have made a significant difference in this world as they applied biblical truths to contemporary problems.
He closes by noting that whenever God has revived his church in the past, it resulted in not just personal renewal, but in social transformation as well. When God breaks forth in new and fresh ways, biblical principles are applied to all levels of life, from the personal to the social.
All in all this is a very important volume which not just outlines broad biblical concerns, but fleshes them out in numerous practical cases, showing how the biblical view of politics is not only relevant to modern social life, but offers plenty of constructive and workable solutions to modern problems.