Sometimes “Christian libertarians” say the dumbest things:
The only problem I had in writing this article was in deciding what title to run with. I could have run with plenty of other options, such as: “FEE’s Theological Folly” or, “‘Christian Libertarians’ Say the Stupidest Things” or “How NOT To Do Theology” and so on. All of these would well describe what I am seeking to discuss here.
It has to do with a really bad article from a few years back. The context for it is this: I had been debating with some “Christian libertarians” – something that may well be an oxymoron – and someone sent a link to this article. I took one look at the title and said, “Um, no”.
I eventually did read the article and I can add a few more words to that original reply: “No, no, no, no, and no”. It is an appallingly bad piece, penned by a gung-ho libertarian who tried to enlist God and the Bible for his agenda. Sorry, but it failed miserably.
I refer to Jesús Huerta de Soto, a Spanish Catholic political economist. His piece was in the free-market, libertarian think tank, The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), which describes itself as “the premier source for understanding the humane values of a free society and the economic, legal, and ethical principles that make it possible.”
Make no mistake, I know FEE well and often appreciate what it does. I have a number of their books and have made use of its many articles and resources. As a conservative, I also believe in limited government and free markets. But as I have argued elsewhere, I am NOT a radical libertarian. My Christianity and my conservatism preclude me from embracing this ideology. See for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/12/27/conservatism-libertarianism-and-christianity/
But let me briefly examine his article which is entitled, “God Is a Libertarian.” It has an equally foolish subtitle, “The state is the true Antichrist. That is where humanity’s problem lies.” It is found here: fee.org/articles/god-is-a-libertarian/
As to who God is, Scripture presents many facets to his person and attributes, but libertarianism is certainly not one of them. There would be many definitions of the term and the various components to it, but one core aspect would be the belief that there should be minimal state intervention in the lives of individuals. Maximum human autonomy and minimum state authority are key aspects of this ideology.
Can anyone reading the Bible describe God that way? I don’t think so. While God did indeed create us to be responsible beings (and theologians and philosophers differ quite a bit on how we are to understand the concept of ‘free will’), nowhere is complete human autonomy seen as the highest good.
Our first human parents effectively sought that, and it resulted in the mess we are now in. Seeking to be autonomous and free of God and his law resulted in the Fall, and we are still paying the price for that. And with not just the Ten Commandments, but hundreds of other Old Testament laws, it is clear that God is not antinomian, nor is he an anarchist. The law of God is based on his own character and person.
And appealing to the New Testament does not help the libertarian. Not only did Jesus say that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfil it, but we also have hundreds of commands found in the NT as well. We are now subject to the law of Christ, and that involves obeying him and his commands, and the others found in the NT.
Yes, some aspects of OT law no longer apply to the NT believer, such as the ceremonial laws (religious rituals and sacrifices etc). But we do not become free of all law when we come to Christ. Yes, Christ sets us free, but free from sin and self – never free from the rule and reign of God – nor from all human authority.
God and government
According to this hyper-libertarian, Satan is to be equated with the state: “the state is the main instrument of evil. In the state, the evil one wields his power. Who is the evil one? The devil, the fallen angel. What is the goal of the evil one? To destroy the work of God.”
Good grief. This is not the place to fully enter this discussion, since I have done it elsewhere, but suffice it to say that government is God’s idea. He created it. In a fallen world it exists to maintain order, punish wrongdoers, and provide a semblance of stability and social cohesion. Simply read Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17 for starters.
To attribute to Satan the work of God is what Jesus refers to as blaspheming the Holy Spirit! Government is ordained by God. It is NOT the idea of Satan. Can government abuse its powers and go beyond God’s intentions? Of course – but that is true of everything in life.
All the good things that God made can be abused and misused. The powers of the state can of course be used for evil instead of good. And when that happens, believers can disobey the government. Thus there is a place for civil disobedience when this occurs, as I have explained elsewhere: billmuehlenberg.com/2015/09/09/the-state-unjust-laws-and-civil-disobedience/
But knowing that governments can overstep their bounds is NOT the same as claiming that we must be against government per se. Thus it is simply ludicrous – and fully unbiblical – when he says, “In other writings … I have examined the reasons the state is not only unnecessary, but also highly inefficient and, more importantly, immoral, and why we must dismantle it.”
No, the state is actually necessary in a fallen world, and since God is the one who has established it, it need not be immoral at all. Indeed, the Bible often talks about godly government and the righteous rule of the nations. See more on this here: billmuehlenberg.com/2019/05/22/god-nations-rulers-and-the-affairs-of-men/
Given that this article claims to offer us some sort of biblical and theological justification for libertarianism, it is remarkable how little Scripture de Soto actually uses. Indeed, we only have a few biblical passages appealed to, and as should by now be expected, he does a great job of mangling them.
Consider what he says about the feeding of the multitudes (which he wrongly conflates with the Sermon on the Mount): “they immediately wanted to appoint Jesus head of state; in short: to make him king. Let us see how the Gospel of St. John puts it (6, 14-15). It reads, ‘When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.’ Why? Because God the Son is a libertarian.”
Um no, Jesus is not a libertarian. The truth is, most Jews of Jesus’ day were looking for a messiah who would take the form of a military ruler to kick Roman butt and set them free. That was NOT the mission of Jesus: he came to die for our sins, and give us pre-eminently spiritual and moral freedom. He wants us freed from our sins, from self, and from Satan.
If Jesus really were a libertarian, then he would have sought to liberate the Jewish people from their Roman overlords. But he did no such thing because he was no such thing. Some groups back then, such as the Zealots, sought to fight against Rome and seek liberation – but that was NOT the mission of Jesus.
Even worse is how he massacres the story of the temple tax and the coin found in the fish (Matthew 17:22-27):
I believe the correct interpretation is that the kingdom of God, which is the exact opposite of the kingdoms of this world, of states, and which never systematically uses violence and coercion, is a kingdom that has already arrived. It has been given to us free, in an act of immense mercy and love (Deus Caritas Est), and it should lead to the dismantling of the kingdoms, or states, of this world, because God is a libertarian, and he made man in his own image and likeness.
Oh dear. This has nothing to do with his anarchist ideology. As mentioned, God ordained the state, and Romans 13 makes it clear that the use of force (the sword) is part of how God has set up government to enforce order and resist evil. And if he does not like the idea of Jesus and the use of force, he better not read the book of Revelation.
The only text he spends a bit of time on is 1 Samuel 8, where warnings are given to Israel about seeking a king (just like the other nations). As anyone with even a minimal understanding of Scripture realises, there is some ambiguity on this matter in Scripture. On the one hand, we do have such a warning, but on the other hand, God (through Moses), had earlier made provision for a king (see Deuteronomy 17).
Even earlier God had told Abram that kings would come through his descendants (see Genesis 17). As I said in another article, “The choice of Saul was displeasing to Samuel and to God, and it led to trouble big time. But the idea of a human king in right relationship to the heavenly king was not out of line, as David was to later demonstrate.” billmuehlenberg.com/2016/03/20/ancient-israel-meant-king/
There is nothing libertarian about God, about Jesus, nor about the Bible. The biblical notion of freedom is NOT that of the radical libertarians – be they Christian or secular. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it in another context: “We are never free. Everybody in the world today is either the slave of sin and Satan or else the slave of Jesus Christ.”
Freedom in the biblical sense has next to nothing to do with the minimalist state and hyper-human autonomy. Quite the opposite. We are truly free when we submit to Christ in love and obedience. Freedom under law is the biblical position, not freedom from law. While I do not fully line up with the theonomists on all these matters, the words of R. J. Rushdoony from Law & Liberty are worth running with here:
One of the basic premises of the American system, and a basic article of Christian faith, is that man’s liberty is under law. The purpose of law in the United States, has, historically, been to further liberty by law. Basic to all moral anarchism is the insistence that liberty can be gained only by freedom from law. From the beatniks and hippies to the student left and civil disobedience agitators, this belief in liberty as freedom from law runs deep. To prove that they are free, these immature and perverse minds insist on breaking some laws to demonstrate that they are free men. But moral anarchy is always the prelude to statist tyranny, and this vaunted freedom from law ends always in a freedom from liberty!
Liberty, then, is under law and it requires careful and conscientious legislation to maintain the social structure in that state of law which best promotes liberty. Limited liberty is the only kind of liberty possible to man. To dream of more is to endanger liberty itself.
See more on this matter of ordered liberty here: billmuehlenberg.com/2012/01/07/ordered-liberty/
In sum, if the thinking of de Soto is the best the “Christian libertarians” can come up with, I think we can safely say they do not have a leg to stand on – certainly not a biblical one.