Theologian Wayne Grudem on God, the Christian, and Politics
R&L: Why did you write Politics According to the Bible and how will it help Christians engage the political culture?
Grudem: I found that there were many Christians concerned about the direction of our nation. But they were unsure what the Bible taught about various political topics. I had taught ethics for nearly 30 years at the seminary level, and I realized that many of the topics that I was teaching had direct implications for political questions. I taught material related to abortion, euthanasia, just war theory, capital punishment, the rich and the poor, the role of government, and environmental stewardship. The more I thought about these things, the more I realized that there were very sound biblical principles that had direct implications for political questions.
Another reason is that I realized that many Christians thought it was unspiritual to get involved in politics and government. However, I found that in the Bible there were many examples of God's people influencing secular governments. I am arguing in the book that it is a spiritually good thing and it is pleasing to God when Christians can influence government for good.
What do you think are the biggest mistakes many evangelicals make when it comes to their approach to policy debates in the public square?
I actually list five mistakes that people make about Christian influence on government in the first chapter of my book. The first one is that government should compel religion. But I argue that government power should not be used to try to force people to support a particular religious viewpoint. I don't think very many evangelicals hold that first wrong view today, but in past history, both Catholic and Protestant believers have fallen prey to the temptation of trying to use the immense power of government to force compliance with certain beliefs. The mistake there is a failure to understand that genuine religious faith cannot be forced.
The second mistake is that government should exclude religion, and that is of course seen in many of the decisions of secular courts today, where they're trying to keep Christians out of the public square and keep Christians from expressing their faith publicly or influencing government at all. That denies freedom of religion.
The third mistake is the pacifist tradition that says government use of power is evil and demonic, and Christians should not have any part in it. They should not participate in military or police forces, using superior force to restrain and punish evil, because that is the work of Satan. I do not think the New Testament views government that way. Romans 13:4 says the government authority is "God's servant for your good." When the government authority carries the sword to punish wrongdoing, it is acting as God's servant, as the agent of God to execute His wrath on the wrongdoer.
The fourth mistake is very common today. It tends to be held by more conservative Christians, and that is the idea that Christians should do evangelism and not politics.
I have to say first that the center of the gospel, of course, is belief in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. It salutes the gospel of salvation by faith alone, in Christ alone. Nevertheless, there are broader implications of the gospel, because the gospel, when it is truly proclaimed, will result in changed lives. And I think Jesus wants us to have changed marriages and changed ideas of parenting and changed schools and changed neighborhoods and changed businesses and workplaces, and certainly, that would include changed governments as well.
I think that pastors have an obligation to explain to their congregations how Biblical teachings impact the government. In addition to that, there are many passages in the Bible that talk about God's purpose for government. Another answer to this view that says we should do evangelism and not politics is that it fails to understand the great influence that Christians have had on governments since the early history of the Church. Early in the Roman Empire, it was Christian influence that led to outlawing infanticide, child abandonment and abortion in the Roman Empire. Christian influence led to outlawing the gladiatorial contests in 404 A.D. Christian influence led to granting property rights and other protections to women at various times through history. Christian influence led to a law prohibiting the burning alive of widows with their dead husbands in India in 1829. Moreover, Christian influence led to the outlawing of the cruel practice of binding young women's feet in China in 1912. One can also look to the heroic campaigns of England's William Wilberforce or the Christian abolitionists in our own history. Alvin Schmidt in How Christianity Changed the World points this out very well.
All of those changes happened because Christians realized that if they could influence laws and governments for good, they would be loving their neighbors as themselves, and they would be doing what Jesus said in Matthew 5:16 when He said, "Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven."
The last mistake, the fifth one, is that Christians should do politics, not evangelism. My book seeks to warn Christians away from the temptation of thinking if we just elect the right leaders and pass the right laws, we will have a good nation. That fails to understand that a genuine transformation of a nation will not come about unless peoples' hearts are changed so that they have a desire to do what is right and live in obedience to good laws.....