Originally posted at Scrawl.TIU.edu
On Tuesday, October 8, Dr. Wayne Grudem, formerly of TEDS and now Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary in Phoenix, Arizona, spoke at a Gospel and the Public Square event here at TIU on the topic, “Should Christians Influence the Government for Good?”
After the event, I sat down with Dr. Grudem and asked him a few questions.
Kevin Halloran: Are there any issues where evangelical Christians are neglecting to engage in politically? What issues should be of concern to Christians?
Dr. Wayne Grudem: Well, there is no quick answer to what they are doing, because some are engaging very much politically. I think of Family Research Council in Washington, DC, or Alliance Defending Freedom. I don’t know if you have one in Illinois, but many states have family policy organizations that try and influence political issues. We have something in Arizona called Center for Arizona Policy which has passed 108 laws in Arizona under their sponsorship. They are doing a great amount of good for marriage issues, pro-life issues, and religious-freedom issues in Arizona.
Some evangelicals are doing a lot, and there are many pastors speaking and teaching about political issues as the Lord gives them guidance. On the other hand, there are some that are saying nothing, as I mentioned in the lecture, either because they are intimidated by a wrong understanding of the IRS code and the law, or they are thinking that it will hinder the proclamation of the Gospel. My answer is: if it is something taught in God’s word, why should we be afraid to speak about it?
The first three issues people speak about are: protection of life (abortion, euthanasia), protection of marriage and the family (relating to same-sex marriage and adoption), and freedom of religion (protecting churches rights to have a building to meet in, to get zoning permission to build, to express views publicly).
My book Politics According to the Bible features 60 issues, and I basically am saying, “Here’s what I understand the Bible to be teaching about these issues. Here are some facts about the situation. It is up to you to decide to speak on these things or not.”
KH: “Christians should focus their efforts on sharing the gospel and making disciples rather than influencing the government, because after all our hope is in Christ and not the government’s policy on abortion or marriage.” Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
WH: Well, that question mixes categories! “We shouldn’t influence government because our hope is in Christ”—the first part of the question talks about our goal of influencing government, while the second part mentions our hope, where our trust is, and where we expect the power to come from.
It is like saying, “We shouldn’t teach Christians to be honest in business, because our hope is in Christ, not in business!” or “We shouldn’t teach Christians how to raise children because our hope is in Christ, not in raising families!” It is a mixing of categories.
I would rather say that our hope is in Christ for salvation first of all and secondly our hope should be in Christ to influence and transform government.
KH: How would you counsel pastors to engage their congregations with Scriptural truth that applies to politics without coming off as too partisan or political?
WG: How can you speak about an issue without speaking about an issue? If you are going to speak about abortion without taking a stand on the issue, it is hopeless! You will not be teaching your people and giving application to them.
I think people should speak about marriage issues the same way. I argue in Politics According to the Bible that there are biblically based approaches to the question of care for the environment and global warming. I don’t think the Bible tells us the temperature of the earth, but it tells us who made the earth and who controls it, and what his purposes are in making it, and what his purposes are for us on earth. I think the Bible says a lot about national-defense issues and protection of a nation and its citizens. It says quite a bit about financial issues: “The wicked borrows and does not pay back” (Psa 37:21a). I think if I were a pastor, I would at some point in the budget crisis bring that verse to bear in the issue. “Do you want to be a part of the wicked who borrow and do not pay back?” There are a lot of issues the Bible speaks to. What other issues? The responsibility of the government, whether the government has the right or responsibility to control an economy, or to dictate what is produced and consumed and what isn’t.
KH: How concerned should Christians be about protecting religious freedoms, and why does it matter?
WG: Christians throughout history have died for religious freedom and the ability to proclaim the Gospel freely without the fear of punishment from the government. Many people think it is our most basic of liberties—if you don’t have religious liberty, you don’t have genuine freedom of speech or the press because you are hindered in not only what you can say, but what you can believe, what the government allows you to say you believe.
KH: How does the Kingdom of God relate to the government?
WG: The kingdom of God does not refer to a geographic or political kingdom, but refers to the reign of God in people’s hearts and lives. That will manifest itself in patterns of conduct and lives that are more and more conformed to the moral standards of God as found in Scripture. When the kingdom of God advances and people become Christians, ultimately there is a transformation of families and neighborhoods and businesses and governments to become more conformed to the standards God has taught in his Word concerning government.
It is more detailed and complex when saying which specific laws should be enacted, but that is what I tried to do in this book. People can differ with me on one or another of the issues, but the basis of discussion is there.
KH: How can we more readily engage in conversations about politics with biblical truth?
WG: I think it would be helpful in thinking and teaching and talking about each topic to spend some time in prayer, asking God to clarify what the issues are in people’s hearts that need to be addressed in relation to national defense, or tax policy, or marriage, or freedom of religion. Where is our trust, where is our hope, where is our confidence? Are there areas we are not placing our trust in God, or other places where we are wrongly placing our trust in the government? In every political issue, there are related spiritual issues of what is going on in people’s hearts. Many times an issue is something like trust in riches versus trust in God for provision.
The whole area of sexual ethics has to deal with divorce and remarriage laws, and whether they sufficiency protect marriage, but also laws about pornography, and whether the government gives freedom for evil to be promoted in the public square, or whether it is regulated to some degree because of the harm it does. Alcohol abuse, drunken driving—there are a lot of moral issues related to legal things. Also, contract violations, which are violations of not bearing false witness against your neighbor.
At a basic level it is zbout knowing Scripture and applying it in basic areas of life. It is a lifelong process, and we become better at it as we go through life and seminary—I hope!
KH: If every evangelical were to read a few books on politics or political engagement, what would be your recommendations?
WG: I think two good textbooks on ethics are Ethics for a Brave New World by John and Paul Feinberg and also John Frame’s book The Doctrine of the Christian Life. Those are very helpful ethics textbooks. I find that on most political issues that have ethical questions behind them, I find myself closely aligned with the Feinbergs, and when I taught ethics here at Trinity their book was one of the textbooks that I used.
I would also say that there is a lot of news available, but I read the Wall Street Journal editorial page every day for wisdom on national political issues; I think it is very helpful. Family Research Council has a great website with a lot of resources, and Focus on the Family’s Citizen has quite a few resources as well.
For more about Dr. Grudem and his work, please visit www.waynegrudem.com.
–Kevin Halloran, MDiv ‘13