Friday, January 25, 2008

The Evangelical Left's Rejection of Reality

The candidacy of Barack Obama has brought the presence and appeals of left wing Evangelicals to greater public prominence. The public association with Democratic Party politics is nothing new, of course. People like Jim Wallis, Ron Sider and Tony Campolo have a history of advising Democrats in general and the Clinton administration in particular. (For example, see "The Message Thing" by Jim Wallis, NYT, August 5, 2005.) The so called "emerging church" movement has picked up this approach to the Bible and to public life and is giving it an ecclesiastical home.

It is always helpful to look at the part in light of the whole, and I find that Albert Wolters (Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario) in his book Creation Regained gives students of politics an excellent view of the theological big picture in which to understand politics, culture and all of life. For this reason, I assign it at the beginning of my Introduction to Politics course.

Wolters describes what he calls the “creation law,” what one might otherwise call natural law. The Lord made the world, by its very structure, to work in certain ways, whether physically, morally, psychologically, economically, etc. He explains this on pp. 13-20, followed by his account of the creation mandate in relation to it. On p.27, he defines it as, “the totality of God’s sovereign activity toward the created cosmos.” On p.62, he says that “ignoring the law of creation is impossible.” If you set government policy based on bad economics, i.e. policies based on false economic principles, i.e. principles that do not correspond to the way God has created the world to operate, they will be counterproductive and bring unhappy results. They won’t “work.” The question for the Evangelical left and right is: what is the creation law in the various spheres of dispute?

The left accuses the right of bowing to secular conservative notions that are not found in the Bible. But by common grace, non-Christians are able to discern these creation laws, often better than Christians can. The question is: have they discerned accurately? The left tends to focus only on the moral law (which they may or may not have right) and understand that as the exhaustive expression of God’s will. Thus, they determine their economics, for example, based entirely on the moral principles that they cull from the Bible. But of course the laws inherent in God’s creation, whether moral, political, economic or chemical, are fully consistent with one another. God is not incoherent. He speaks with one voice. So if their moral theology entails an impoverishing and politically enslaving economic theory, it is a good indication that their moral reading of the Bible is defective.

For example, Wolters writes, “Any theory that somehow sanctions the existence of evil in God’s good creation fails to do justice to sin’s fundamentally outrageous and blasphemous character” (pp. 58-59). An Evangelical on the political left would point out that the free market economic system (“capitalism”) employs and legitimizes selfishness, and thus is ungodly and inherently sinful. But lo, it works! It not only makes a few people rich, but it raises the tide and lifts all boats. In fact, the rising tide of prosperity in free market American lifts boats all over the world!

So how do we square the dependence on sinful selfish gain with the evident correspondence of economic liberty with natural principles in God’s created order? The answer, I think, is in examining the moral premise more closely. What our hypothetical leftist called sinful selfishness is actually just reasonable self-concern. My desire to prosper is not inherently sinful. My desire to get the best product for the lowest price is not inherently sinful. These things can take sinful forms, but that does not entail an indictment of the system itself which like all things, in order to function properly, needs to be set within the broader context of a charitable Christian society.

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