Politics for Christians: How to Prevent Proof-Texting

Statecraft as Soulcraft

I’m reading and reviewing “Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft” by Francis J. Beckwith, and like my previous review of “Free to Choose” by Milton Friedman, I’ll be reviewing each chapter one at a time. I’d invite you to read along with me or just learn more about this book and its ideas through these posts.

In his book, Beckwith addresses the concern that many Christians have regarding their faith and public life. Do we, as Christians, have to set aside our religious beliefs before entering the public square? And how should Christians understand the role of government in a liberal democracy? Should Christians use the government for a moral agenda? These are the sort of questions that Beckwith explores.

One of the problems that Beckwith sees in Christian political musings is the combination of one’s political views plus biblical proof-texts. In this problematic combination, people simply seek to confirm their view without rigorous assessment.

So, for example, conservative Christians ‘find’ free markets in Scripture, while liberal Christians ‘find’ the welfare state. And rarely do such Christians entertain the possibility that their reading of Scripture is colored by certain assumptions about the human person, property and freedom that are completely alien to the biblical worldview. (emphasis added)

Beckwith is saying that we need to be open to the possibility that our view(s) could be wrong. He cites an example that’s familiar to conservatives: progressive Christians often claim the early church’s example of sharing their possessions serves as a basis for full-blown societal economic policy. Beckwith writes that we must be careful in using single instances because of the contextual factors involved: the church was in its infancy and its members hardly had any political or cultural clout. Compare that with the church a few centuries later—it was ruling the Roman Empire. The church in the fourth century had members that were learning how to be a Christian and how to manage a society. We, like them, have to figure out how to apply the biblical principles of human conduct in society.

     Do we, as Christians, have to set aside our religious beliefs before entering the public square?

Beckwith’s purpose in this book is not to set forth a scholarly monograph arguing for a particular position. Rather, it is to introduce people to certain foundational topics to the study of political life in liberal democracies for religious believers. He does still suggest ways for how we should understand the compatibility between a liberal democracy and the truth of the Christian message.

To give you a peek at what is ahead, the five chapters of the book are titled: “The Study of Politics,” “Liberal Democracy and the Christian Citizen,” “The Separation of Church and State,” “Secular Liberalism and the Neutral State” and “God, Natural Rights and the Natural Moral Law.” I’m looking forward to what ideas Beckwith can spark.

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