Tuesday, January 8, 2008

(Christian) political idolatry

Christopher Mann has blogged at Veritas Rex on Albert Mohler's recent comments about Christian idolatry toward politics...


My good friend, Josh Harber, a fundraising executive for Wycliffe Bible Translators, brought to my attention an analysis of the Iowa election numbers by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler. The evangelical leader makes some good insights on the meaning behind the Iowa results, but I take issue with a too-frequent dig (the right word?) against conservative Christians who are involved in politics:

"The rhetoric of the race -- and the rhetoric of many evangelicals -- is disturbing. This race is important and necessarily so. We are talking about the next President of the United States, after all. But evangelicals have invested far too much hope in the political process. No government can make people good, transform humanity, or eliminate sin. The political sphere is important, but never ultimate. Jesus Christ is Lord -- and He will be Lord regardless of who sits in the Oval Office."

(emphasis mine)

My response:

I welcome Dr. Mohler's comments (given what I have inferred about his political views previously)-- although I concur that they are vague.

Idolatry toward politics is quite common, including among Christians.

Such idolatry is condemned often in the Old Testament; it is seen on occasion in the New Testament; and its absence is also modeled ably in the New Testament. It is marked by blindness toward the idol's deficiencies, disappointment when the idol inevitably fails, and often (sadly) a redoubled worship (until one is hopefully cured).

Today, we see it in an (over) dependence on government for sustenance, security, and solutions. Among Christians, we see it in an overemphasis on political solutions to what are, at root, social/cultural problems which are, at root in a Christian worldview, a failure to follow Christ.

In the tradition of Jeff Foxworthy, one might make a list of "you know you're an idolater toward government if you..."

-say that spiritual revival is not possible without political revival (as a best-selling Christian author once said)
-see every election as "crucial"
-lose/lost a lot of sleep (or threaten to move to Canada) when a certain Democrat (or a Republican) wins a presidential election
-think every level of government failed in the Flood of New Orleans-- and your answer is more government
-think government is quite ineffective in the economic realm but quite effective in the social realm (or vice versa)
-think "what should the government do" when thinking about many social problems

7 Comments:

At January 9, 2008 at 9:51 PM , Blogger Bryce Raley said...

Eric,

Bryce Raley from Southeast Christian Church. I've been reading your blog lately and appreciate your opinions.

I agree somewhat that political idolatry is a problem for Christians. I think we have to balance it with the fact that our tax dollars are used for many things which are contrary to our Christian worldview. If we do not speak up and get involved then are we being luke warm Christians- I wish you were either hot or cold.

My hope is a President and congress who are not involved in legislating and fixing every malady with big government solutions.

Other than legislation against abortion, I don't like the government legislating morality. I agree with your premise in your book. I do want a President who leads and gives a congruent example of integrity and honor. I would like a man shares my values and upholds the constitution.

I only see a few in this race who I believe are authentic. Not perfect, but authentic.

 
At January 10, 2008 at 4:58 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Bryce, thanks for your kind words.

To clarify, you're not calling me lukewarm-- just quoting Rev 3 on the desire for Christians not to be lukewarm and applying it to their political involvement. ;-)

Balance is difficult for the layperson-- Christian or not. I'm an economist, a teacher, and a policy analyst by vocation-- so knowledge and interest is a given for me. For most others, not so much.

Moreover, we're blessed to live in a country where politics are not as important. But the flip side of that is a casual &/or narrow-- and too often, an incoherent-- approach to politics.

But while politics is not nearly everything, it is something-- and there is a lot at stake in justice terms, from the plight of the unborn to the repeated economic abuse of the working poor and middle class by government and interest groups.

 
At January 10, 2008 at 8:44 PM , Blogger Bryce Raley said...

You are right in your clarification. I was speaking to a Lukewarm attitude of Christians towards politics. Not toward you.

Balance is definately hard for everyone. I have a sermon on tape in which Bob Russell balances key concepts in scripture which tug at us. An example he used was contentment versus ambition.

I would love it if a book could be authored or coauthored on the balance of scripture. The book should probably begin with a definite statement that there is no balance in the salvation offered through Christ- then moving on to dicuss major principles and characteristics taught in scripture that clash at times.
Grace versus Righteousness
Ambition versus Contentment
Work versus Rest

In a file I have a list of about 20 of these examples.

 
At January 12, 2008 at 7:59 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Bryce, real quick, I don't think the government legislating against abortion is legislating morality. It's their job to punish evil, and that most definitely qualifies. (Not sin, but evil.)

That said, remember that it's not the FEDERAL government's job to do that. It has a specific role, and it's not to deal with the crimes of individuals. (The unconstitutional "federal" crimes notwithstanding.)

Eric,

I agree with you. I'd be sure to stress the "every" in the comment about how crucial an election is. Obviously some very much are.

The problem comes in defining what you mean when you say it. It is God that establishes and destroys nations. It's God that appoints Kings and elects Presidents. Who we get is never as bad as we deserve, but can still reflect our condition before him.

This is a crucial election because we face many challenges, and electing the wrong person will cause them to be much much worse. A candidate who finds that more government, central planning, price controls, and lowered interest rates are a great way to combat a recession is likely to throw us headfirst into a second depression.

It's not crucial because it'll be the end of the world, or even (I hope) the end of America.

Too many Christians fear some form of this when they talk about how important it is. It is based in a lack of understanding where our true citizenship lies, and an over-dependence on government to save them.

 
At January 12, 2008 at 10:42 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Shamgar, thanks for the clarification and extension. To Bryce's "legislate morality", I should have said (as I do in my book) that I label such things "legislate justice"-- since direct and significant harm is being done to another.

Shamgar, I don't see this election as any more crucial than normal-- especially with the sort of candidates running, the sort of Congress they'll be working with, and the various constraints they'll face. Will it be different if party X or candidate Y wins? Sure. But no more so than any other election-- and probably less so.

 
At January 13, 2008 at 9:57 AM , Blogger Don Sherfick said...

I'm having a little difficulty differentiating between "sin" and "evil". I assume that both have to do with individual moral acts/responsibilty, as perhaps opposed to some kind of "collective" actions/ommissions by groups, governments, and the like. Can somebody enlighten me on this?

 
At January 13, 2008 at 4:37 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

An interesting question Don...

I think people use them somewhat interchangeably. One distinction is that sin is a noun and evil is an adjective. Comparing sinful and evil, the latter implies something more serious-- and something done/said/thought with ill motives.

Biblically, sin has a very wide range. It can mean "to miss the mark"-- and thus, can apply to anything from mass murder to my failure to offer the perfect word to another person. It can be a sin of omission or commission. It can be a sin of word, thought, deed, motive or the strength in which something is done (Rom 14:23).

Many people believe that avoiding their narrow definition of "evil" (at least for the most part) will be sufficient to get them into heaven. In terms of Christian theology, this is clearly not accurate. As Paul wrote in Romans (3:23, 6:23): "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God"-- and "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus".

Our response should be to thank God for His grace and to accept it!

 

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