Courtesy of chronicle.com
For every age, and for every culture, there has been a name for the obscure. For Rousseau, it was “the general will,” for Kierkegaard it was “the crowd” and for common conversation it is “they said.” No one knows what a crowd does, but it makes us feel empowered. No one knows who “they” are, but we all believe in their wisdom. In each case, we surrender the debate to a nameless and murky authority—we surrender to the obscure.
In the debate between conservative and liberal Christians, we punt to the obscure, invoking the phrase “that’s not biblical.” And we are expected to surrender the authority of the debate to this nameless, formless, religious version of “They said it’s wrong.”
But that is not the end of the debate. If Christians want to think biblically about politics—or about any subject for that matter—you cannot punt to the obscure, you must submit your claims to the scrutiny of the details, and, as Warren Buffett once said, “find out who is swimming naked.”
The Political Trifecta
There are three operations in the claim, “That is not thinking biblically about politics.” There is “the biblical,” your “thinking” and “politics.” Therefore, there are three types of operations, so there are three types of claims and therefore three sets of tests.
1. You must know the Bible
Imagine reading Caesar’s “Gallic Wars” while possessing no knowledge of Caesar, the Gauls or their conflict. It would be hard to imagine you could gain much knowledge of the book even after reading it. It would simply be a book about some military campaigns, their significance and accuracy almost utterly unknown.
Reading the Bible possesses the same requirements. If you have no knowledge of the people, places, contents, authorial intentions, historical context and so forth, it is hard to imagine having knowledge of the Bible, or any significant knowledge of its claims, even after having read it.
This weakness in our understanding of the Bible was most prominent in the debate during the rise of the LGBTQ+ movement. The argument in support of the movement was something to the effect of, “If you eat shellfish or have linens of mixed cloth, then homosexuality is fine.” The counter-argument, mistakenly, was to defend the Levitical ban on shellfish or mixed cloth, or argue that it was something from the Old Testament and has no bearing on the New Testament. All of these are interesting responses, but they ignore the glaring problem—they both lack a sufficient understanding of Levitical law. By consequence, the entire debate ignored the glaring discrepancy between God’s punishment against Israel for sexual sin and lack of recorded punishment for eating shellfish or wearing mixed cloth. If the text treated the laws differently, we should treat the laws differently.
Instead of evaluating the biblical claims the debate immediately devolved into a slasher-flick in which substance was swapped for cheap entertainment tricks. To think “biblically” requires us to know what the Bible says in a much more sophisticated way than Basil Jackson, a leading Christian psychiatrist, who once said, “Wonderful things in the Bible I see, most of them put there by you and me.”
2. You must know politics
Just as you must possess knowledge of the biblical context and authorial intentions, you must possess an understanding of a similar nature to understand politics—governing arrangements, law, foundations for social ethics and so forth.
For example, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was recently elected to the United States House of Representatives, could not remember the number of chambers in Congress. Even after realizing her error, she could not correctly name the three branches of the federal government. Whatever your views are of Ocasio-Cortez, the question still remains—If you cannot name the three branches of government, do you have a proper understanding of the roles of the three branches of government?
The same goes for the question about “thinking politically.” If you do not have an understanding of politics, then it is difficult to imagine what you can contribute to the political debate except obscure claims.
3. You must know how to translate Biblical principles into the subject.
If you know the Bible and you understand politics, you must also provide an adequate translation of biblical principles into a political application. You cannot simply say, “Jesus said to love your neighbor, therefore we should adopt communism.” Instead, you must extract the appropriate biblical principles, have an understanding of politics and then, like fitting a hand into a glove, properly apply the biblical principle into political discourse.
Put another way, it is possible to understand the Bible, understand politics and then misapply a biblical principle in politics.
The claim “you are not thinking biblically about politics” requires three operations and therefore three tests. As Christians we should not punt our debate to the obscure, no matter the religious connotation, because we must understand and test someone’s position before we can appreciate it. We must test their knowledge of the Bible, their understanding of politics and their translation from the Bible to politics.