A Review of Politics According to the Bible. By Wayne Grudem.

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.

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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.

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21 Replies to “A Review of Politics According to the Bible. By Wayne Grudem.”

  1. Hi Bill, I like Wayne Grudem, I have his book on theology and I like how he looks at all the angles and then gives scriptural, as well as personal opinions. I have a question for you; I have just received a flyer for The Global Leadership Summit http://www.willowcreekglobalsummit.com/ endorsed by Bill Hybels, at first I thought wow, this will be great, but then I wondered about some of the speakers, for example Jack Welch former CEO of GE – Welch endorses President Obama and the GE company will be one of the biggest beneficiaries of any carbon taxes. Then another fellow who is a guest speaker, Daniel H. Pink, was Al Gore’s speach writer!?! I have to say that I have read & seen Hybels – I think he is the real deal, as far as holiness and outreach goes and a friend has told me that T.D. Jakes is the ‘most anointed preacher’ he has ever seen! I am presuming that Hybels and all the other Ministers are going along for the ‘social justice’ ride, but believers of global warming? I am on the conservative side also, as it has the best biblical basis as Grudem & yourself would state. I am just wondering your views on Christian’s and the Left side of politics. Thanks.
    Neil Innes

  2. Thanks Neil

    The short answer is yes, some of the speakers do seem to be a bit of a worry.
    The long answer to your other queries would be too long here. But since I have written often on these themes, maybe just let me point you to a few such articles:

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  3. Bill

    Does he say anything regarding natural law theory?

    It is good to see that he took the smart position on foreign aid. I agree completely that the efforts of Christians like Bono to cancel third world debt may have been well intentioned enough, but they are no solution to the world’s poorest people. Scripture commands us to be compassionate AND wise.

    I’m glad Grudem took this position because I was a little disappointed at David Brog’s otherwise wonderful ‘In Defence of Faith: The Judeo-Christian Idea and the Struggle for Humanity’ where he picked Bono’s crusade as an example of Christianity inspired compassion. There was no addressing of the arguments against foreign aid, at least as a long term solution to poverty.

    I was also disappointed that he swallowed the ‘genocide’ smear/propaganda against American Indians claim that has been peddled by leftist historians.

    But otherwise it is an outstanding work that portrays the morally uplifting influence of Christianity down through history.

    Damien Spillane

  4. Thanks Bill – read all 3 – very good. The biggest problem I have with Christian’s on the Left is that, by association, they are in agreeance with secular humanistic atheism, anti-christian & anti-Semitic logic. I am told that the Left view of ‘social justice’ is the most biblical and that the right are greedy, self-centred, uncaring,warmongers. War is hell, I get it, but sometimes it is necessary. The other aspect of the Left I dont get, is that ‘anything goes’ morally – lets get our kit off and go for it; with the mantra that as long as nobody is hurt, all is well – again I dont know how Christians identify with this. Regrettably I work for a Christian education organisation that identifies with the Left strongly – in fact PM Gillard was on the phone to the GM of the org to see what her Government could do for the organisation. (More Government funding please!) Nearly all the teaching staff are of the Left, as they see that only the Left cares enough to keep that spiggot turned on at all times and when PM Rudd did his BER thing during the GFC, he was seen as nearly messianic – this was the man that could not say when asked directly is Jesus the only Way – he avoided the question! The compromise I have seen in the organisation is staggering – it seems that most things revolve around how to get more funding, but the flip side is that the organisation absorbs secular values. I for one am saddened when I hear that Christians side with the Left – but as we know over 70% of Jews in the USA support a party that is basically anti-Semitic, but that I understand, as their hearts have been hardened in unbelief (see book of Romans) but the Christian’s, now that I do not really get!
    Neil Innes

  5. Thanks Damien

    It really is a massive book which covers so much ground and so many issues, ranging from global warming to gun control to school voucher systems to health care. But in all this I could not find too much on natural law theory. However I still highly recommend this very important book. It is the sort of the biblical equivalent to the writings of Thomas Sowell.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  6. Hi Neil,
    Re: Global Leadership Summit.
    Bill Hybels has had Tony Blair in his pulpit. Tony Blair of the UN backed “inter” faith foundation.Tony has nothing of value to say to biblically defined Christians and why a Christian leader would promote this nonsense is beyond comprehension. Jack Welch is a member of the powerful leftist and globalist organisation, the Council of Foreign Relations. Again no friend of Scriptural Christians.
    Add Trinity denier TD Jakes and my advice; stay away and warn others to stay away.
    Glenn Christopherson

  7. Neil and Glen,
    There is an old saying that is to the sentiments of; ‘any fool can learn from a wise man, but it takes for a wise man to learn from a fool.’
    Although you may not agree with everything that is believed and practiced by those who are speaking at the willow creek conference, I guarantee if you accepted the speaker with a soft heart, you’ll take away something worthwhile.
    If we look to the Bible and cancelled out every person whose way of ministry was socially strange or who’s theology was different to the popular theology of the day then we would easily eliminate most of the people who God called.
    Example, John the Baptist was a freak, if he were alive today I’m sure it would be hard for us to think of him as legitimate but though he was different, he brought a word from God. Hosea married a prostitute and he was called, Mary was a teenager who conceived out of wedlock, Paul was a Christian Killer, Jonah was running from God and did not care for the people God wanted to save. The list goes on. My point though is that instead of looking too harshly at someone else and premeditating that they have nothing good say, why not accept them as called from God and listen to hear wether God is bringing a word through them.
    Graeme Knoll

  8. Thanks Graeme

    But of course the issue is not whether your theology goes against “the popular theology of the day”. The issue is whether your theology goes against the Word of God. Thus none of your examples hold up. They were all orthodox in their theology. Whether they did strange things is not the point. What they believed is.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  9. Well said Bill,
    The attempt to use the Bible to prove we don’t need to be faithful to the Bible is a particularly annoying argument. And of course it’s the popular theology of the day that is creating the problems we face in the church.
    Glenn Christopherson

  10. Certainly sounds like it is worth the read. Good to see that someone else comes to the same conclusions as I have about the Christian response to foreign aid.
    Paul Wakeford

  11. Hi Bill,

    Excellent, a comprehensive Biblical exposition on the State will be very helpful! I haven’t read Grudem’s Systematic Theology, but would you say that his is a reformed position?

    Also – wondering if you have read ‘Saviour or Servant?’ by David Hall, and if so, how do the two compare?

    Many thanks!

    Isaac Overton, ACT

  12. Thanks Isaac

    Yes his Systematic Theology is a great volume and yes he seems to be in the Reformed camp (he is a Westminster grad). I have not heard of the Hall volume.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  13. Bill,

    Just in follow up to that question – how does Grudem deal with the relationship between OT/NT perspectives on the State?
    Does he hold to the position that the OT blueprint for the state outlayed in the Mosaic law is only applicable in terms of its historical context?
    Does he argue that the instruction and blueprints laid out there are presently applicable (or at least still applicable in principle and moral equity – similar to the WCF approach to judicial law in the OT) in terms of how we are to understand the state?
    Or does he lie somewhere in between?

    Isaac Overton, ACT

  14. Thanks Isaac

    Like the majority of those in the Reformed and evangelical camps, he finds problems with the Christian Reconstructionism position. He spends just a page explaining why. But of course other Reformed thinkers have offered fuller critiques, eg., Frame, Poythress, etc.

    But disagreements about this particular issue should not detract from the importance of this book. And perhaps one day I will write a few pieces on Theonomy, so stay tuned.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  15. You mention it’s available at Koorong. Their price (excl. postage) is $48.95 (but note the 20% off sale coming up on 5/11). Alternatively, you can get the same book sent to you from Book Depository for $30.66 AUD including postage.
    It’s always worth checking http://www.booko.com.au for book prices prior to buying these expensive items. I have found bookdepository.com is usually the cheapest.

  16. Thanks Pete

    (I need your full name here!) Yes, I know about the Book Depository, and actually that is where I got my copy of this book. It is not yet in Australia. And thanks for the tip about booko – a great site for book lovers hoping to save a bit of money.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  17. Thanks Bill, I look forward to your article on the topic!

    Thanks also for the reference to Frame and Poythress, i’ve found some good articles and am working my way through them.

    I must say though, I would think that any theologian’s view on OT law would be supremely significant when assessing a work of this nature – as it would be very determinative of the instruction and teaching of the book itself. If the writer did not believe that OT law was normative or at least informative on the topic of politics and policy, his theology of the state would probably look vastly different than someone whose view was informed by (or normatively based upon) the instruction of the OT.

    For my part, I don’t think that it is properly possible to build a theology of the state without it being informed by Scripture in its entirety.

    I appreciate that the topic is much more complex than my comments give credit for.

    Isaac Overton, ACT

  18. Thanks Isaac

    The issues certainly are quite complex. And no one involved in these issues does not believe that OT law is “at least informative on the topic of politics and policy”. But that is not the issue. The issue is how many and how much of the 613 laws given to ancient Israel are normative for Canberra legislators today. Do we resume the laws about stoning rebellious children for example?

    The simple truth is, there is both continuity and discontinuity between the Testaments. The tricky bit is to determine what continues and what does not. That is where the disagreements arise. Clearly there is some discontinuity if we simply read the NT carefully. And the words of Christ in Matthew 22:21certainly put things in a different light.

    But this is not the stuff to be debated in short comments. Even short articles would hardly suffice, given that millions of words have already appeared on these multilayered and highly difficult topics.

    So stay tuned, some articles may yet appear on all this, time allowing.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  19. Pete,

    Thanks so much for the link to: http://www.booko.com.au. What a great resource.

    With the parity of the Australian and US dollars now, there are some fantastic discounts to be had on books (and other things) by ordering from the US rather than Australia.

    Mansel Rogerson

  20. Thanks Bill,

    Yes, as you say, the real issue here is how we are to correctly interpret and apply the OT law (although if you have talked to some of our more dispensational brothers, you might change your view on whether there are those who do not believe the OT law to be informative on the issue at all! but perhaps they might not be rightly classified as being “involved in the issues” as you say!).

    I would also doubt that you would find many Christians who would disagree with your statement on the reality of there being discontinuity between the covenants (no serious reader of the NT could state otherwise!). Certainly reconstructionists recognise this truth (and I would count myself among their number), even though there has been confusion and mis-accusations on the position in the past in relation to these issues.

    Matt 22:21 is definetely interesting, I personally believe that Jesus was making a distinction that is also recognised in the OT (i.e. the seperation of church and state, and more significantly, the distinction between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of men – the Kingdom of God being ‘not of this world’, and distinctly separate from the kingdoms of men – but nonetheless being the Kingdom to which all other kingdoms and kings owe their allegiance, and which is also the Kingdom by which Christ’s Lordship is recognised and proclaimed – including in the area of the state/ceaser). Matt 5: 17-19 also has some interesting implications!

    As an aside, I believe Rushdoony’s comments on laws about stoning rebellious children to be very insightful (see: Institutes of Biblical Law pg 185 & 481 I think – you’ve probably looked at them).

    Thanks again Bill, as you say, short comments or even articles are not sufficient to do any real credit to the topic – i’d be happy to engage in a more lengthy email exchange anytime!

    Bless you,
    Isaac Overton, ACT

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