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Government and God's People

An Interview with Wayne Grudem

Wayne Grudem is the research professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary in Arizona. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for 20 years. He has served as the President of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, as President of the Evangelical Theological Society (1999), and as a member of the translation oversight committee for the English Standard Version of the Bible. He also served as the general editor for the ESV Study Bible (Crossway Bibles, 2008). Grudem's latest book is Politics According to the Bible (Zondervan, 2010). He recently spoke with Religion & Liberty's managing editor Ray Nothstine.

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.

Dr. Wayne Grudem giving a lecture at Phoenix Seminary.

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.

What is the single greatest challenge today for those in business who are striving to live out their faith in their professional lives?

The anti-business sentiment that is a significant part of our general culture would certainly qualify. I think our university system, the media, and some segments of our political culture foster a deep suspicion of business activity. They think that people who make a profit in business or become wealthy in business must be doing something morally wrong, and that they are taking money that does not belong to them and so forth. I think ultimately that viewpoint stems from Marxist thought that remains floating around in the intellectual atmosphere in our universities, implicitly, if not explicitly.

It is Marxist theory that believes all ownership of private property is wrong, and that when owners of large businesses make a large profit, they are simply exploiting their workers. Marxist theory is opposed to any significant inequalities in income or possession. However, all of those Marxist views are contrary to the Bible's teaching that private property is good and it is a gift from God. The people of Israel, in the Jubilee, were to return to their own property. Property, when people died, was passed onto a person's family. There is no indication in the Bible that government should become the default owner of property, as in a communist system.

Even the commandment, "You shall not steal," implies that individuals own property, and so I should not steal your ox or donkey or your laptop computer, because it belongs to you, it does not belong to me. Of course, in Acts 4, there was abundant sharing of possessions with the early Christians but in Acts 5, Peter reaffirms to Ananias that his property was his own. After he sold it, the money from the proceeds of the sale still belonged to him. After Acts 5, we have many examples in the rest of the New Testament about Christians meeting in people's homes for church. People still owned homes. The New Testament emphasizes the value of private property and I think that has implications for the moral goodness of business activity as well.

The question is, how much do people deserve? How much income do people deserve to make? What is fair? What is right? My response is that people deserve to earn what they have legally earned, but without violating the law. The government does not have any right to sit over the top of the nation and decide how much money each person should have.

I argue in Business for the Glory of God that the fundamental components of business, which are producing goods and services, employing other people, buying and selling things, making a profit, competing in the marketplace and using money, that all of these components of business are not morally evil things. They are not morally neutral things. They are morally good things, which can be used in evil or sinful ways.

People in the business world should in general think they are doing things that are pleasing to God and morally good, and they should enjoy it and do the best job they can.

How do you approach specific policy debates from Scripture, such as the current debate in states and at the federal level about continually extending unemployment benefits? Can Scripture give us any insight into a policy measure of that nature?

I want to be careful not to make policy pronouncements on specific issues that the Bible does not address. I think sometimes Christians simply have to make decisions based on the results of one policy or another. People can evaluate the factual data in the world in different ways; evaluating the results of different tax policies and things like that. However, on unemployment, there are at least two principles that come into play. One is that we are to care for the poor and those in need, and the Bible frequently talks about the need to care for the poor. I think government has a legitimate role in providing a safety net for those who are in genuine need of food, clothing and shelter.

There is also a strong strand of biblical teaching that emphasizes the importance of work to earn a living. Paul commands people to work with their own hands and gain the respect of outsiders, be dependent on no one. He says if anyone will not work, he should not eat. In the book of Proverbs, it says a worker's appetite works for him. The longer that unemployment benefits are continued, the more we contribute to the idea that some people should not have to work in order to earn a living, but we should just continue to have government support them. That creates a culture of dependency, which is unhealthy for the nation and unhealthy for the people who are dependent, year after year, on government handouts.

In the book The Battle, Arthur Brooks says that what people need is not money, but "earned success." The example that comes to my mind is a student at the seminary here who told me that a number of years ago, he had been in jail. He was arrested for the sale of drugs and other crimes, and his life was just a mess. Later, he finally got a job at a fast food restaurant and one day his manager told him he was doing a good job of keeping the French fries hot. All of a sudden, this young man had a sense of "earned success." That is, he was doing well at something and he felt great about it and it spurred him on to work harder, to seek to receive more managerial responsibility at the fast food restaurant, and now he is a straight-A student at the seminary and has had a number of years of successful Christian ministry already.

So we need to be asking the important questions about how we can we get the economy growing so that more jobs are available.

There's understandably a lot of economic fear and uncertainty now. What parallels in Scripture can provide insight and instruction for this season?

Christians need to remember that God Himself rules over the nations. Psalm 22:28 says, "Kingship belongs to the Lord, and He rules over the nations." Psalm 66:7 declares, "God's eyes keep watch on the nations." Psalm 103:19, "The Lord has established His throne in the Heavens, and His kingdom rules over all." Daniel 4:17, "The Most High rules the kingdom of men, and gives it to whom He will and sets over it the lowliest of men." And Job 12:23, "He makes nations great, and He destroys them. He enlarges nations and leads them away."

These and many other passages remind us that God is sovereign over the course of history and the affairs of nations. It is important for Christians to settle in their hearts that God is in control over history, and His purposes will be accomplished.

The last chapter of my book has to do with combining work to bring good influence to government, coupled with faith in God and prayer that God's good purposes will reign in earthly governments. I think we have to do both things, because God hears prayers, and He also works through the efforts and actions of human beings who are seeking to influence government for good.