Book Review: Politics According to the Bible by Grudem
Wayne Grudem, According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010). 619pp. Hardcover, $39.99.
In Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture, Wayne Grudem attempts to provide exactly what the title advertises, but the result is less than satisfactory.
He sets out to achieve this ambitious goal by first establishing “basic principles” in Part One of the text. He critiques “five wrong views about Christians and government,” argues for a model of “significant Christian influence on government,” gives biblical principles concerning government, outlines a biblical worldview, and worries about the growing power of unelected courts in America. His basic principles set forth, he moves on in Part Two to give positions on over sixty modern political issues, ranging from abortion to farm subsidies to marriage to campaign finance restrictions. When the subtitle says “a comprehensive resource,” it means comprehensive.
Of course, the biblical text actually says very little about campaign finance restrictions, or nuclear weapons, cap and trade, and Native Americans (other political issues Grudem addresses). Grudem would not disagree. In his introduction, he explains that he uses three types of arguments in the book to defend his positions: appeals to direct teaching found in the Bible, arguments from broader principles, and appeals to facts in the world (18-19). Arguments about farm subsidies and campaign finance fall into this latter category. So much of the book falls into this category that it might better have been titled Politics According to Wayne Grudem.
But the problem with the book is not that Grudem appeals to facts and reason when there is no clear biblical teaching on an issue, although it is not clear why those issues would appear in a book with this title. The problem is when Grudem does appeal to the biblical text he often does so in a shallow way. The troubles begin in his biblical worldview chapter, where he lays out “an overall Christian worldview” (116). These are its components:
A. God created everything
B. The one true God reveals himself and his moral standards in the Bible
C. The original creation was “very good”
D. There is moral evil (“sin”) in the heart of every human being
E. God placed a curse on the entire natural world
F. God wants human beings to develop the earth’s resources and to use them wisely and joyfully (116-123)
That’s the whole thing. The discerning proprietor of a Christian worldview might take note of some startling omissions, such as redemption and consummation. This worldview cannot properly be labeled a Christian worldview, because there is no Christ in it anywhere. Because Grudem does not start with a complete worldview, it is impossible to tell how human politics in general, or American politics in particular, relate to the wider biblical story. Instead, human politics become the entire biblical story, and the Bible becomes primarily a book of moral absolutes to be used in crafting legislation.
This incomplete understanding of redemptive history and revelation has deleterious effects on Grudem’s exegesis and application. For example, he argues against euthanasia partially from 2 Samuel 1:1-16 (179-181). In this passage an Amalekite tells David that he killed a dying Saul, and David executes the Amalekite. Grudem says that the Amalekite was punished essentially for assisting suicide, and that this action is always wrong. In order to make this argument he downplays significant contextual factors, such as the fact that Saul was the Lord’s anointed, and that Saul’s special position is the explicit reason David gives for executing the Amalekite. So while I would agree that euthanasia is wrong, his argument from this text is not convincing.
There are similar problems when Grudem argues that Native Americans should move from a system of tribal ownership to private ownership, even though this goes against their cultural traditions. In support of this view he cites Matthew 15:2, 15:6, and Mark 7:9. In these passages Jesus accuses the Pharisees of rejecting the commands of God for the traditions of men (549). It would be helpful if Grudem explained why these Gospel texts could so immediately apply to Native Americans even though the contexts are so different, but he does not explain, he simply cites.
The book culminates in a section titled “The Details of Revival: What Might It Look Like if God Brought About a Revival of the Church and a Transformation of the Nation for Good?” Grudem never explicitly addresses eschatology, but in this section he offers a postmillennial vision of mass conversions, solid teaching in churches, a government that is obedient to Scripture, and a strong civil society, along with miraculous signs and wonders (599-600). Christians are to “continually put forth our utmost efforts to move the history of our nation in the right direction” so that revival can occur (601). It is not clear where Grudem gets his theology of revival or how it fits into the broader scheme of redemptive history. Once again Grudem’s incomplete worldview leads to viewing the biblical story through the lens of American politics, not vice versa.
There are some helpful portions of this book, usually when Grudem is appealing to facts and reason to make his case. The biblical hermeneutic he often uses to validate his positions, however, leaves much to be desired, because Grudem does not situate his view of politics in the overall scope of redemptive history. Without this proper perspective, politics quickly swell to become the whole story, and biblical texts are mined for rules of good governance rather than being allowed to speak on their own terms. For Christians looking to obtain a biblical view of politics (rather than the American political view of the Bible on offer here), there are far better resources available.
Reviewed by Anna Speckhard, MATS Candidate