In reading the current fracas over at American Vision (and I want to mention here that I have the highest personal regard for Gary DeMar), I was reminded again of a travesty I observed frequently while a part of the Theonomy movement (with which I no longer identify): the apparent subordination of Christianity to politics, specifically libertarian politics. This is the first time I’d ever encountered such misguided thinking. I’d always been politically conservative, not because there was any inherent value in conservatism, but because conservatism (I mean by this classical liberalism, with its stress on individual liberty that libertarians most value) was more in harmony with the Faith and the Bible than its alternatives. I was only interested in politics to the extent that the Bible and Faith shape one’s political views (Ayn Rand would not have approved).
Of course, I believe that the Bible addresses, either explicitly or implicitly, many political and cultural issues, and that’s why I’m devoting a big part of my life to Christian cultural reclamation. David Bahnsen and I, for instance, will be hosting on April 28 in Orange County a conference on The Roots of the Financial Crisis, and my talk is “The Theological Roots of the Financial Crisis.” I am passionate about the application of the Faith in culture, including in politics; but politics may never become the proverbial tail that wags the Christian dog.
Conversely, it appeared — and appears — to me that many professed theonomists are committed libertarians who are seeking in Christianity a religious sanction for their libertarianism. I believe this because they seem quite willing (at times) to sacrifice Biblical views (like God’s moral law) when they conflict with libertarian tenets (like freedom for any action that doesn’t harm others). For this reason, some of them are eager to make common cause with secular libertarians, who often despise Jesus Christ and the Bible and who support clear violations of God’s moral law like same-sex marriage and other extramarital consensual sexuality, which God abominates (Heb. 13:4). These Christian politicos hate the state, and therefore make common cause with libertines. They are so afraid of Stalin that they leap into bed with the Marquis de Sade. They don’t seem to understand that individual liberty minus Biblical Christianity equals libertinism, against which God promises judgment (Gal. 6:8).
If there is to be a libertarianism at all, it must be an explicitly Christian libertarianism. I’m sure that I didn’t invent that moniker, and if I knew where I first heard it, I’d give due credit, but people seem to think I’m the modern source of it. In any case, we are Christians first, not libertarians (or anything else) first. If that Bible-shaped Faith leads to generally libertarian conclusions, well and good. But if the Bible taught state socialism, I’d be socialist (it emphatically does not, and so I am not). The issue is Jesus Christ and the Faith and the Bible, not politics as such.
The Christian stake in politics is, first — always first — to disciple all nations (Mt. 28:18–20) in the Gospel of Christ, the message that his death on the Cross (1 Pet. 3:18) and his victorious resurrection (Rom. 4:25) save all who believe in and submit to him (Rom. 10:13). As individuals trust and submit, they reorder their lives in accord with his Word (Phil. 2:12–13). We pray that the state stays out of the way so that we can live a peaceful life under Jesus Christ’s authority (1 Tim. 2:1–2). In democracies we employ our vote and discourse to bring all of life, including politics, steadily under God’s righteous standards (1 Pet. 2:16). That includes, among other factors, maximum individual liberty under God’s law (this is how I defined “Christian libertarianism” in my article 15 years ago). Individual liberty is not a stand-alone virtue. It is a virtue only as it’s subordinated to Jesus’ gospel and God’s law. Liberty without God is vice, and it leads to enslavement (Rom. 6:16). To repeat: individual liberty minus Biblical Christianity equals libertinism. We must be Christians, and we should be Christian libertarians, but we cannot be libertarians who also happen to be Christians.
I warned recently about political salvation, or messianic politics, which is generally the province of liberals but can ensnare conservatives as well. Let’s never assume that if we just got rid of an onerous state and got back to unfettered liberty for any action that doesn’t harm anybody else, we’d have a really great society. We wouldn’t. Man needs salvation from sin, the greatest slavery of all (2 Tim. 2:26). Only Jesus Christ provides this salvation. And only the gospel furnishes true freedom (Jn. 8:36).
Jesus saves. Politics doesn’t.