Sunday, February 24, 2008

Christians and political engagement summary

Sorry about the recent abundance of posts on politics recently; I guess in light of recent events in Malaysia, Malaysian citizens have been more active in engaging with the public square. Afraid this is another one. Thanks for bearing with me!

Wai Nyan has written a thoughtful, pithy post on democracy. I think he's right - we do tend to elevate the status of democracy to that of saviour, which it isn't of course, and it can easily spill over into self-indulgent praise. But as the Bush Administration is no doubt aware, liberal democracy doesn't happen to be the answer to everything. It is God who directs the future. Anyway, I left a comment simply summarising the various positions of Christians towards political engagement, and I thought I'll put it here too. However, I don't actually know that much, so feel free to correct where I've gone wrong in my descriptions. Below is my comment, slightly modified.

'One of these viewpoints is principled pluralism, which is a fairly mainstream position of many Christians, especially those that lean in favour of democracy. I believe (might be wrong) they argue that the basis for this is natural law, so God has revealed to everyone a general standard of righteousness - murder is bad, human equality should be pursued etc., and so society/legislation can be founded on such grounds. This has been criticised along the same lines as you have, I think, sin - putting me first - gets in the way of natural law, and the standards laid out are arbitrary. For instance, Rowan Williams in his recent lecture proposed "human dignity" as the benchmark, and someone might ask, but how do you define that?

There is another version of principled pluralism, I think, which does not use natural law as its foundation, but argues for "Christian principles" to be established and therefore able to influence society. This I think, is the "neo-Calvinist" version. It firmly affirms God as ruling over all things, but feels that the Fall means that a "Christian" government can easily lead to some sort of religious tyranny. Consensus-building is favoured over imposition.

There’s the Anabaptist take, which argues for a radical separation between church and state, and to be indifferent, not to social justice, but to influencing legislation. It’s primarily about being a "witnessing community".

And then there’s the Reconstructionist/theonomist view, which I think you’re slightly leaning to. (There might be differences between the two, but if so, I don’t know what they are). They criticise those who are "principled pluralists" for not recognising that the state can never be neutral, and that laws are better explicitly grounded in the Bible, not just a "vague" notion of "natural revelation". They would argue that "if Jesus is Lord" then surely this includes legislation as well. Those who are really radical might promote even the enforcement of OT laws (though I imagine the application of this is much more sophisticated than “don’t eat shellfish!”). Democracy and "rights language" is an idol that needs to be rebuked. This is more of a minority viewpoint though. As you can imagine, the idea of a "Christian nation" is too much for many to stomach, similar to how a lot of us react when we hear "Islamic state"...

I think the Catholics also put forth some different ideas, but I haven’t the faintest clue what they are (or maybe they’re the natural law guys?). Lutherans might also see things differently, not sure about that...

These are all simplistic versions, and they probably overlap at various junctures. Basically, how you view the relationship between law and gospel, what you think of the end times (will things get better? worse?), and the related question of how Christians should approach culture all seem to have bearing on how you think Christians should engage politically.'

The neo-Calvinist approach naturally appeals to me, probably because I've been influenced by neo-Calvinist writers in relation to engaging culture. Wouldn't have a clue on defending my position though.

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