As a young man he was sensitive and handsome. He enjoyed music, theater and horse racing. His early decisions in government provided for a more balanced government, the ending of capital punishment, the reduction of taxes and the ability for slaves to sue unjust owners. His name was Nero. You can read about him here, here, here, here, and here.
In another time and place a charismatic, passionate, dedicated young orator, visionary, strategist and author struggled through his father’s death, his mother’s bout with cancer (which ultimately killed her), a period of poverty, a country torn apart by war and prison to eventually become a national and global leader. His name was Hitler. You can read about him here, here, and here.
Neither theology nor leaders are born in a vacuum, nor are they elected in a vacuum. We are all products of our culture and what was once thought normal is often deemed barbaric to another generation. What was once viewed as acceptable becomes detestable – and occasionally the reverse occurs as well.
The American Experiment with all its uniqueness has afforded modern Christians the privilege of widely diverse opinions and the environment to vigorously debate them (in a global manner). Not long ago each person’s opinions would be kept to themselves, but not anymore.
The problem with American Christianity, as with Christianity in every era has been the natural inclination to follow the ways of the world. This is nothing new, it is simply to some degree more ferocious in its inundation in our lives – there is no escaping it. Thus, the Christian is tasked with the very real task of deciphering and discerning what is of the flesh and what is of the Spirit.
Enter Christian Ethics….
Unfortunately, the vast majority of Christian ethicists that I have read in my lifetime, while often advocating “higher ground” or “improved morality” have very similar, and at times even identical, methodologies and reasoning, as their non-Christian counterparts. Highly respected professors of ethics and theology, beacons of light to the Christian world appear to be as mired in the mud of “situationalism” as those who don’t follow King Jesus.
Without desiring to digress from where I’m heading with this article I mention the issue of lying as an example. To my knowledge, all Christians would readily admit that God has never, and never will, lie. All Christians would acknowledge (I think) that all believers are to become more and more like God daily and eventually to be completely conformed/transformed into the image of Christ. Thus Christians should not lie because it violates the character of God, is not faithful to the Christian witness, testimony, creed, commandments, Scriptures, etc. BUT many contemporary Christian ethicists say if your life (or the life of someone else) is in danger, it’s acceptable to lie. It’s interesting how when a life is on the line, the ‘rules’ change. That’s situational ethics! Jesus indicated that you have to lose your life to gain your life, so why do we keep trying to keep our life – we will lose it!
I present this illustration on lying to demonstrate the reality and real-life implications of our theology and how we live it out. Theology is a real life deal. It makes a difference.
One of the highest held beliefs of ancient Judaism was that God was sovereign. Interestingly, while many in the Christian realm give lip service to this idea it is denied in practice or glossed over with cop outs when it comes to pragmatics and politics.
In the current political climate what I repeatedly see and hear from Christians is the notion that “we the people” have to make sure a certain someone doesn’t get into the White House. Since when is it the responsibility for the people of God to “set up kings” and presidents? That didn’t work real well for God’s People in the past and it won’t now or in the future. (I am well aware that we are not a theocracy. This point doesn’t hinge on being a theocratic kingdom or not.)
In a country in which we as Christians actually get to voice our opinions (a rarity in history), it is very easy to forget that we have been adopted by a new Father and granted citizenship in His Kingdom, of which we are priests and ambassadors. We are but aliens and strangers here in this world so we need to stop acting like this is our permanent home and it is our responsibility to “save the nation”. We can’t and never could!
In what seems to be an ever increasing number of blogs supporting Tump for President, Wayne Grudem’s recent post on who/how to vote can be summarized in his own words as follows:
Therefore the one overriding question to ask is this:
Which vote is most likely to bring the best results for the nation?
Grudem makes this statement as a modern application of Jeremiah 29:7 which says“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare”. This verse is used in almost every urban ministry book I’ve read and has great theological and practical implications for real life decisions BUT it is not arguing for choosing a king or president, it is God telling His people – who are in exile because of their rebellion – not to fight Babylon because He’s the one that put them there. Instead, settle down (you’re going to be here for 70 years), live your lives and be a positive impact where you are. We should do the same thing – as long as we’re alive we should invest and make a positive impact in our cities. God’s people should be known for liberally loving others in word and deed because of Jesus, our King! Grudem’s attempt to determine the future (vote for the one most likely to bring the best results for the nation) based on a vote in a presidential election is over-reaching in my opinion and begins to tread on God’s sovereignty, all the while ignoring the real issues of character and Gospel Living. This, despite the fact that in 1998 amidst the Bill Clinton scandal, Grudem stated
We are aware that certain moral qualities are central to the survival of our political system, among which are truthfulness, integrity, respect for the law, respect for the dignity of others, adherence to the constitutional process, and a willingness to avoid the abuse of power. We reject the premise that violations of these ethical standards should be excused so long as a leader remains loyal to a particular political agenda and the nation is blessed by a strong economy.
In fairness to Grudem this was said of a sitting president, of which Trump is not. However, the statements made are clear enough that issues of character and morality are central to a president and should not be easily dismissed. Additionally, Grudem indicates that a prosperous/blessed nation is not enough of a reason for excusing character flaws and integrity issues. This seems quite contradictory to his rationale for voting for Trump (welfare/prosperity/blessed nation). Thus it seems to me Grudem has gone down the slippery slope of utilitarian pragmatism in an attempt to prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming president.
Do we have any idea what God is about to do in and with America in the next 10 years AND how He is planning on using that on a GLOBAL scale to expand HIS KINGDOM or are we just too concerned with the pragmatics and fear of the future? So in the name of fear and pragmatism we are urged to vote for a man involved with immoral business ventures (plural!) and broken relationships despite the fact that Grudem and other Christian leaders had serious concerns, or in some cases, supported impeachment for former president Bill Clinton’s single (?) act of immorality.
A results oriented vote is tantamount to an “ends justify the means” or “situational ethics” philosophy, thus voting by principle is not good enough.
Andy Naselli, author, professor, theologian and ethicist, has penned several articles related to this topic, including a response to Grudem. His response includes two pieces of critical reasoning;
- Does your conscience allow it? Naselli has written Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ. His book is only the second book I am familiar with devoted to the topic of the conscience. The first being John MacArthur’s The Vanishing Conscience which I first read almost 20 years ago.
- How far are you willing to go? On this point Naselli indicates that previously he held to William Buckley’s utilitarian rule of thumb to vote for the “rightward-most viable candidate”.
Point two is where I would like to focus for a moment – while agreeing whole-heartedly with point one – you cannot and must not violate your conscience as a Christian. At the same time you must inform your conscience by truth – specifically the renewing of your mind via God’s Word instead of man’s word.
I am thankful for Naselli’s candor in realizing his previous manner of decision making when it comes to presidential candidates no longer works. However, I think he is only one step ahead of Grudem and others who are still fighting for a utilitarian/situational ethic. How long can one rationalize the utilitarian framework? Naselli asks who you would vote for if Satan and Stalin were the two candidates? Is there no third way?
What Naselli seems to understand is that utilitarianism only works for a time period. I would argue it is simply not the proper model (unless maybe all other variables are equal – which in America with the number of presidential candidates available is not the case). There’s a better way!
The problem is the world-view of utilitarianism and situational ethics. God doesn’t play those games. God operates on principle and character. God does not lie and neither should we – no matter what it costs us. And when it comes to politics and leaders God is still sovereign. On a political note, if Christians wanted real change and had real guts they would stop pandering to the two party system and make a real attempt at putting a real follower of Christ in office – one that looks, talks and acts like a follower of Jesus.
A third party candidate could win (Lincoln was a third party winner) but regardless why would we as followers of Christ be surprised that the world system doesn’t vote with Biblical ethics?! What is shocking is how many professed followers of Christ will vote for the “lesser of two evils”. Would you have voted for Hitler? Nero? Would you vote for Stalin or Hitler if the two were running? Pragmatics cannot be the rule, Principles must be the rule. Principles of the Kingdom of God, which, since we are not longer our own but have been bought with a price, we are willing to suffer through the consequences thereof .
There are still self-professing Christians who think abortion is OK, who think racism is OK, who think inter-racial marriages are not OK and the like. They are wrong!
I put my money where my mouth is. In each of the last 3 elections (maybe more) I have voted for a third party Christian candidate – mostly Alan Keys if I recall. Some of you, due to the selective focus of elections and those who control the media may know even know he ran – that’s because the god of money controls the American political system, not principles and character. My vote did not cost anyone the election and even if it did I would have voted the same way. I study who’s running for president and vote for the one most like Jesus, with consistent character and values and leave the outcome to God.You prepare the horse for battle but the results are up to the Lord.
Jesus died on the cross – would you have voted for Him? (And don’t use the cop out that He was resurrected because at the time no one understood that).
You are a theologian, the question is whether or not you’re Biblical/Kingdom of God minded.
You are an ethicicst, the question is whether or not you’re Biblical/Kingdom of God minded.
You are an influencer, the question is whether or not you’re Biblical/Kingdom of God minded.