Political and Evangelical Theology by Brian Mattson

One of the fearful manifestations of modern evangelicalism is the embarrassing witness of evangelicals towards a manifestly evangelical political theology. This is exactly what Brian Mattson is not afraid of in his new book: Politics and Evangelical Theology: A Guide for Concerned Christians and Political Progressives. The book opens with a few illustrations, which prove the author’s thesis that political neutrality is impossible. Religion and politics do mix, and those who are most opposed to the connection between God and the Republican Party need also oppose those who would very easily associate Jim Wallis’ “charitable” Christianity with God’s agenda for the world.

It is true that God is not a Republican nor a Democrat. But the inconsistencies need to be pointed out. And when the political analysts decry the over-religious tone of the politicians on the Republican side while overlooking the conspicuous religious tones uttered in liberal churches under liberation theology’s worldview, then this bizarre inability to be consistent needs to be observed.

Since I know a little of Dr. Mattson’s work, I am fairly certain I will come to slightly different conclusions in a few of these matters, yet, his thesis is to be applauded. The Bible does provide a political agenda, and the political agenda needs to be framed by the Bible.

The Political Discourse Continued…

The political discourse is uglier today than it was in the last two campaigns I have followed (04 & 08). However, I have attempted to find some equilibrium between the side that says that the Republican Party has completely lost its way and there is nothing redeemable, and the other side who supports it blindly and ignorantly. My friend Andrew Isker and I had a brief exchange on the issue of whether we should be grateful that the Republican Party will be adding the Gold Standard to their platform or whether we should simply view it as a few more empty words. Here is Andrew’s post, and following is my reply.

And I agree that incremental change like this is good. But the biggest problem with incrementalism is that with each successive increment, that many more people become satisfied and complacent. And yes, I know you understand that too, but far too many people become satisfied with those who simply parrot a few anti-Fed lines and never really intend on doing anything. It’s the same way with abortion. Pro-lifers were understandably excited with a Republican House and Senate as well as President were in office from 2001-2007. During this time they could have overturned Roe vs. Wade with a majority vote in both houses. They did not. The most (supposedly) ardent pro-lifers (see Santorum, Rick) did not seriously entertain that perfectly legitimate option, despite the fact that one would suppose the most radical pro-life congressmen would, regardless of pragmatic concerns over the success or failure of such a measure. The Republicans simply bought off the support of naive pro-lifers with only the most basic, effortless, and least costly policy changes despite having the ability to not only do more, but actually put an end to it. The best antidote for incremental lackadaisicalness is healthy skepticism. I don’t want to be in the business of quoting someone who is the poster child for those who should have this method employed on them, but “trust, but verify.”

My response follows:

Andrew, this may be a way of appeasing the RP crowd, but I also view it as a sign that when someone speaks truthfully and consistently for 30 years things suddenly become less strange. We may be at a stage where “conservatives” may be finally willing to at least consider–or for some–re-consider the gold standard. There is no doubt the Federal Reserve system has never been more threatened than it is now, and many conservative voices are beginning to express the same level of skepticism about America’s militaristic agenda. It is true that some will vote Republican without ever giving attention to these matters, but I think there is a growing trend of people who are open and truly curious about Austrian Economics and related issues. We need to be more optimistic of the political discourse. From my perspective, this is a tremendous improvement, even if little in your estimation. On the other hand, I separate the issue of gold and the Fed from the issue of Life. In one (the first) there is room for discussion and incremental change, since it requires education within the Conservative movement. On the other (abortion) Conservatives should know that incrementalism has done nothing for the Pro-Life movement in these last 30 years (just look at Deace’s statistics in his introductory essay). So, we need to provide a hierarchy of matters, so that not everything becomes creedal, but certain things become legitimate secondary topics which the more discussed the more others will see their legitimacy.

Political Discourse, Differences, and a Continuing Dialogue with a Friend

Dear Andrew,

Your visit to this good part of the country was a true blessing. Thanks for entertaining me with Rushdoony stories. My reading of Rush early on was instrumental in shaping my vastly dichotomized theology. Dr. Doony (inside joke, in case the readers are wondering) was majestically insightful and able to confront secular thought—and secular thought masqueraded in Christian clothing—with immense ease. This was not only because of his genius, but because he believed that the Bible tore down the supposed rationality of fools (Psalm 14). He was correct to assert that Van Til did not take the next step in his earth-shattering category of the “impossibility of neutrality.” Rushdoony and others moved boldly across the “neutrality” landscape in both Christian and non-Christian circles. As you know—better than I—this did not prove fruitful in terms of career advancement. Even the great Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia was not willing to publish anything related to R.J. Rushdoony until our mutual friend, John Frame, came along and reviewed Rush’s magnum opus, The Institutes of Biblical Law. That gem still remains a precious tool in the exposition of God’s sacred law.

My high regard for Rush’s intellect does not blind me to his many faults. Among them was his disloyalty to the Church, the Bride of Christ. Rush should have submitted to her discipline, but rather chose a path of his own, thus staying away from the Lord’s Table for many years, and inventing a patriarchal model which does not do justice to the redemptive purpose of Yahweh’s Bride, the Church. In this sense, Rushdoony did a tremendous disservice to the mission of the Church (Matthew 28:18-20). But his son-in-law, Gary North, answered him directly and appropriately in his Baptized Patriarchalism. I too have concluded editing a book which contains several essays defining this ecclesial mission, and hope to see the book make its long due entrance into this important conversation by late September.

I appreciate your thoughts on some of the context of our beloved Reconstructionist history. In some ways, Reconstructionism freed me to think biblically about everything. As I absorbed Reconstructionist thinking I finally began to connect those ideas that were simply invisible previously. And I must say, your works and articles were instrumental as I sorted through these issues before and during my seminary days. One of my major studies in seminary—under the direction of John Frame—was on the theology of Abraham Kuyper. Naturally, this led to me to consider the broader claims of Jesus as Lord of all, and through the process your engagement with some of Kuyper’s ideas of pluralism helped sort some of the confusion in my mind.

As you and I have outlined our similar vision for the future of Christendom there remain strategic differences. They are not to be minimized, but to be given their proper due. Therefore, we cherish these types of dialogues as a way of increasing our knowledge of each other’s strategies, but also to establish a more irenic model for political discourse; a model which some of our Reconstructionist forefathers did not follow.

Though it is easy to be critical of Rushdoony and others, we also acknowledge—as I am sure you will concur—that they were pioneers. And pioneers usually have a more prophetic and confrontational disposition. Irenicism is not at the top of their priority list. As a result, they are either misunderstood or deeply at fault.

My first confession is that I am utterly incapable of addressing these issues with the level of eloquence and finesse that you express. Whereas I have been delving into the political landscape wholeheartedly for a little over a decade, you have been involved, and at times right in the middle of the political discussion, for over four decades. So, I am the one that needs to learn from you.

One of the issues that usually goes unsaid in these discussions is that we all have our curmudgeons on both sides. Sometimes these cranks become terribly full of themselves and de-friending them on facebook is the only healthy alternative. For instance, one man equated Ron Paul—a Christian brother who has served this country’s military, who has been undoubtedly one of the most faithful politicians to his vow to uphold the Constitution, and a consistent voice of reason—with terrorists. I can understand disagreeing vehemently with his non-interventionist policies, but this type of rhetoric does nothing but damage this discourse that you and I cherish. You would not say such a thing, but I fear that some in your circles have made such disparaging and destructive comments to the wider public. Again I stress, it does not help make any progress in the Christian political discourse.

I consider myself something of a Christian libertarian ( I believe Rushdoony referred to himself in this manner), but I do not hold to the social theory of dominion by cataclysm. Rushdoony may have had this ingrained in him due to his Armenian background, which was filled with warfare and tyranny. This may explain the context of others who share this view also. Certainly as Eugen Rosenstack-Huessy observed, the world goes through revolutions. These revolutions take on different forms. Sometimes we must endure some pain before we can endure glory. This is nothing new. James Jordan has stressed this for decades in his emphasis on the death-resurrection themes that are found everywhere in the Bible. But revolutions do not necessitate the end of the West. God forbid.

I suspect you and I would point to similar problems at the root of this country’s disease: secularism, anti-nomianism, foolish compromise, etc., but we would perhaps take a different course of action.

I too believe in incremental change. This implies—in my thinking—that the change we need will happen over time. As a Postmillennialist, I believe time is on our side. This is not an argument for passivity, but rather an affirmation that God controls time and that He honors those who use time wisely. There is such a thing as good political stewardship. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of courage and courage sometimes demands taking the less travelled road. This does not mean—in my mind—abandoning the Republican Party, but it does mean we need to challenge the status quo, and if challenging the status quo means choosing a different candidate, then so be it.

As for us we are profoundly concerned about the state of this nation. There were some in 2008, but there are many more today joining the We won’t be fooled again chorus.Their reasoning is sound in my estimation, especially because they were in the belly of the fish for years and were spit out. And as you can imagine, it left a bad taste in their mouths. Note that some of these men are not libertarians, they are hawkish in their foreign policy, but find the economic and moral journey of the Republican Party in the last 30 years to be abysmal. So, they are voting third-party or merely sitting out on this one. These are and were establishment Republicans saying Not again. They cried when George W. Bush beat Kerry, and by the end of Bush’s second term they were crying again for a different reason. “How long?” they ask.

As for us on the moral Libertarian side, we cannot but find the words of Chesterton prophetic and suitable for this discussion:

The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.

The progressives are examples of intellectual suicide. When they open their mouths they spew the logic of a three year old before bed time. Once in a while a Democrat will say something worthy, but that one thing is crushed by a sea of absurdity.

On the other hand, conservatives work hard on preventing correction. Some try, but they are shut off by the Republican bureaucrats. The tea-party freshmen were a breath of fresh air.  Congressman Justin Amash gave me some hope. Senators Rand Paul and Senators Tom Davis seem to have a bright future.

Conspicuously, what differentiates many of us is a matter of emphasis. Whereas you (Andrew) have a set of priorities, many of those I watch and engage are merely content to see a Republican in office no matter what his position may be. I want to emphasize certain things that once were important to this nation: a humble foreign policy, not a passive foreign policy, but one that takes into account the Augustinian Just War Theory. Even though the questions raised by the Just War Theory may not lead to an overwhelming consensus, I believe they are questions worth asking. One gentleman you know well wrote in a comment that he does not support the Just War Theory. To dismiss such a historical creed on warfare is titanically naive in my estimation. Also, we Moral Libertarians wish to emphasize the Federal Reserve system; a system that prints money out of thin air and then uses that money—without the knowledge of Congress—to bail out foreign banks. Travesty! Again I say travesty!

We need more virtuous Christian dialogue. I sense that you and your influence can help to shape this discourse especially within our circles. Our strategies may differ and there are certain important issues that we may find hard to let go. But unity is demanding, and so for the sake of it (John 17), let us continue to pursue it violently and vociferously for Christ and His Kingdom.

Christian theology serves the greater call of the Christian Empire founded by Jesus Christ. May our theology reflect mutual love and may wisdom shape our interactions and our decisions for the glory of the Triune God.

For the labors of the Kingdom of God,

Uri Brito

{Andrew Sandlin’s gracious response to my first letter is addressed here}

The Political Discourse and the Kingdom of God

no preview“There is not one square inch that Jesus does not claim ‘Mine,’ ” wrote the great Dutch theologian, Abraham Kuyper. Many of us agree with this universal claim, but at the same time we also differ in how this particular claim is to be applied. The political discourse of our day provides us with a challenging example of how the Lordship of Christ can be applied in different ways.  People that I deeply admire and have gained tremendous theological insights over the years are diametrically at odds with each other’s proposals. Kuyperians, we may all be, but our strategizing differs rather sharply at times.

One of my mentors, James B. Jordan, has argued that Mitt Romney is the only option for conservatives. The possibility of another Obama term is frightening, and should settle the issue. Jordan–and others—makes the valid point that politics is messy. Thus, politics cannot be perfectionistic. It is not hard to see the implications of Jim’s assessment. He is pointing to Ron Paul, and the perception that many have that he is the perfect candidate.   Paul is a Constitutionalist who has refused to compromise in principle throughout his career. He is a rare gem indeed. Jordan–as he has informed me–finds Ron Paul appealing on many levels, but for Jordan, Ron Paul is not the nominee.  Jordan’s theological acumen and remarkably insightful  analysis of the Bible and its application to all of life should give even the most committed supporter of the Texas Congressman some pause to consider. Jim Jordan is no dummy when it comes to the political environment, and he is well aware of Christian libertarians, since many of his fellow Reconstructionists–Gary North and R.J. Rushdoony– in the 70’s and 80’s were ardent disciples of Misean economics (it is worth noting that they did not imbibe of Misean theology in the process).

On the other hand, one of the wisest pastors I have had the privilege of meeting and interacting over the years takes a different approach. Douglas Wilson, known for his titanic intellect and ability to make the likes of Christopher Hitchens weep intellectually, will not endorse Mitt Romney. Doug is no stranger to the political scene. He breathes Kuyperianism, and both his books and blog posts (however pugilistic they may appear to some) express an unashamedly Biblical viewpoint. Wilson believes we have left the door open too many times to Republicans over the years, and they have not only entered our open doors, but also re-arranged the furniture and expected our full approval of the new design. Wilson argues that we should be more cautious before tattooing the big “R” on our right arm.

These distinctions aside, as I mentioned to my dear friend Andrew Sandlin recently, “we all desire the same goal.” Our goal as Kuyperians/Old/New School Reconstructionists/Theocrats/Theonomists, or whatever term you attach to those who love the reign of King Jesus is to alert the world that Jesus is Lord and Caesar and Barack Obama are not. We all share the view that worshipping in the Name of the Triune God trumps our political allegiances. We all affirm that the kingdom of God does not report to the left or the right, but above where its headquarters reside.

I am instinctively fearful of these political brouhahas. I have witnessed strong and faithful Reformed groups split because of their differing political strategies; men who held virtually every position in common, except their political candidates. As a result, their roads parted, and fruitful ministry opportunities disappeared.

I offer no profound new insight into these discussions, except the pastoral and Kuyperian hope that we maintain our priorities; that we would maintain a kingdom vision that is far greater than the elections of November. My hope is not that these discussions should cease for they are the very fabric of the American culture, but that they would be viewed as a small part, and not the center of the agenda of the Kingdom of God.

Bullying Chick-fil-A

That’s the title of W. James Antle III’s piece for the American ConservativeThe piece touches on the inherent contradiction of the political bullies of our day. Antle concludes:

Supporters of gay marriage have every right not to patronize a business that gives money to their political opponents, as well as to voice their disagreement with Chick-fil-A’s president. But allowing politicians to make thuggish threats against business owners with whom they disagree is worse than letting a fox guard the hen house.

{read the entire article}

Pat Buchanan’s “The Suicide of a Superpower”

Buchanan’s not happy. And his latest book reveals it right from the start. Here is a stunning sample of this unfortunate reality:

The European and Christian core of our country is shrinking. The birthrate of our native born has been below replacement level for decades. By 2020, deaths among white Americans will exceed births, while mass immigration is altering forever the face of America.

Mormonism and Joel Osteen

The same questions asked in the early church are being asked again in the 21st century. The Nicene Creed, a standard summary of Christianity, is threatened on a regular basis.

With the political scene heating up, and the Romney ticket becoming certain, the national debate is beginning to focus on the religious affiliation of candidates. This being the case, Romney’s Mormonism will take central stage again much like Kennedy’s Roman Catholicism in the 60’s.

Many evangelicals will taste the Republican pie certain of its bitter taste. However, they will claim its bitterness is tolerable. The more sophisticated evangelicals will argue that this is a necessary step, an incremental move that will bear fruit in the long term. The bottom line is Obama must go, and Romney is the likely candidate to assure this desired exit.

At the same time, there are a growing number of Christians who not only argue on the basis of Romney’s unconvincing credentials as a conservative, but also that his Mormon faith is unhealthy, and undesirable in the quest for a Christian republic.

Though many politicians play their religious syncretism with skill, Romney’s faith is unquestionably headed towards Utah. So, does this mean evangelicals need to back up in their creedal dogmatism? Or should they insist that a line is a line? Or did Athanasius die in vain?

Kennedy was quick to throw the pope under the bus. Will Romney do the same with Thomas S. Monson? Further, how will evangelicals undertake this theological analysis? Will they be able to distinguish properly between a non-Trinitarian and a worshiper of the One who is Three and One? These types of discussions will undoubtedly continue in the days ahead. Christians–many of whom I respect–have taken the “anything but” argument, and will push for a Romney presidency. If these evangelicals pursue this route–and there are many noble ones who will– may they be sure that they not confuse their Christ for an unknown god.

Mormonism–for all its moral qualities–is not Christian. Joel Osteen’s version of Jesus Christ is not Christian. His appeal to a broader view of Jesus–though politically savvy–is precisely the type of affirmation Jesus rejected. The Christian cannot afford to lose precision at this point. Our confession cannot be compromised:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.

Romney and Mormonism

With the almost inevitable status of Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee, the American public will be getting a good dose of Mormon theology from all sorts of quarters. Some will likely misrepresent Mormonism, while others will present a more realistic version of Latter-Day-Saints’ theology. National Review has a sneak peak of their latest piece on American attitudes towards Mormonism:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is, you may be surprised to learn, the largest religious organization in the United States after the Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the United Methodist Church. The Baptists and the Methodists are in decline, while the number of Catholics and Mormons is growing, with Mormons adding to their numbers at 2.5 times the Roman rate of redemption. It is likely that Joseph Smith soon will have more followers in the United States than does John Wesley; already the words “Salt Lake City” carry a religious resonance no longer detectable in place names such as “Aldersgate” — or “Boston” or “Philadelphia” for that matter. (If it weren’t for E. Digby Baltzell’s Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia, the religious flavor of those places would be not only gone but also forgotten.)

Mormons and Catholics are alike in that they matter. Everybody knows who the pope is, and when there’s a papal vacancy the drama of the election leads practically every newspaper in the world, and all of Europe holds its breath. Very few Americans could pick Bryant Wright out of a police lineup or tell you that he is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention. What the Catholic Magisterium teaches influences public policy — and life — around the world. Mormons, likewise, have a kind of cultural electricity about them: There is no Broadway musical assembled to lampoon the beliefs of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, but The Book of Mormon keeps selling out. There are few if any websites dedicated to “unmasking” the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., but there are dozens dedicated to Mormons. The Catholic Church matters in part because it is global, and in some quarters it is still held in suspicion for that reason. The Mormons represent precisely the opposite condition: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only major worldwide religion bearing a “Made in the U.S.A.” label. Forget apple pie: With its buttoned-down aesthetic, entrepreneurial structure, bland goodwill, and polished professionalism, it is as American as IBM.

Also, it drives people crazy.

Steve Deace Endorses Newt Gingrich

For the politically inclined, I wrote a short piece on Deace’s endorsement of Gingrich.

Douthat on Gingrich and the Tempting of the Religious Right

I always enjoy the New York Times Opinion Page because of Douthat’s pieces. Douthat makes the NYT seem reasonable at times. In this op-ed, he answers the question: “What face does the religious right want representing them? He answers with great conviction on why Newt Gingrich would not be one Christians should endorse.

He concludes the article with stunning authority:

Of course Christians are obliged to forgive a penitent, whatever his offenses — though a cynic might note that it’s easy for an adulterer to express contrition once he’s safely married to his mistress. But one can forgive a sinner without necessarily deciding that he should be anointed as the standard bearer for the very cause that he betrayed. Contrition is supposed to be its own reward. There’s no obligation to throw in the presidency as well.

In a climate of culture war, any spokesman for conservative Christianity is destined to be a polarizing figure. (Just ask Tim Tebow.) But a religious right that rallied around Gingrich would be putting the worst possible face on its cause and at the worst possible time.

His candidacy isn’t a test of religious conservatives’ willingness to be good, forgiving Christians. It’s a test of their ability to see their cause through outsiders’ eyes, and to recognize what anointing a thrice-married adulterer as the champion of “family values” would say to the skeptical, the unconverted and above all to the young.