A Review of Wayne Grudem’s Attempts to be Comprehensive
Politics is a very broad subject which allows for a great deal of disagreement. Likewise, the Christian faith has many values that are unique to individuals and groups. Combining the two is not always easy, and it certainly does not make for precise clarification. Each system presents a unique set of biases which have a tendency to taint the other. Understanding what the Bible teaches about politics ought to be a great concern for Christians. The challenge then, is to be willing to examine our preconceptions and not allow them to be determined for us.
I was mislead in my initial approach to reading this book. Perhaps it was Peter Sanlon’s review in The Gospel Coalition’s Themelios in which he called Grudem a Libertarian. Or maybe it was because Voddie Baudham recommended it in his endorsement of Ron Paul. I would wager to say that neither of them actually read the book because it would clearly clash with their statements and positions.
Wayne Gruden is a theologian, professor, and author of several books, but most widely known for his book on “Systematic Theology.” He admits upfront that he is not a political journalist, and that his approach is slanted from a conservative mindset. As a relatively trusted resource among evangelicals, I can understand why people would turn to him on such a subject, but one thing is clear, he is not an authority on political matters. He may even be overestimating his attempts by thinking his principles apply across cultures and party lines.
“Politics According to the Bible – A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture” is Grudem’s attempt in creating a resource for Christians in understanding and interacting with government. Written in three sections, the first lays out a thorough explanation of how Christians approach the balance of faith and politics. He then develops a biblical worldview that addresses many of the passages where the Bible addresses politics. The second section deals with particular issues relating to a wide range of topics most specifically focused on political policies. In the final section he addresses the culture of politics and how it works in the US.
The premise that a book can address every issue in politics according to the Bible is rather bold. It comes along with a wave of thought that everything Christians involve themselves in somehow needs to be related to biblical principles. Grudem points out in his introduction that much of what he has to say cannot be supported biblically. “I am certainly not claiming that the Bible also supports all the facts I cite about the world today.” With this admission, Grudem explains three standards he used in forming his premises: Biblical certainty, broader principles, and an appeal to facts. In reality, what he does is substitute broader principles for his presuppositions and an appeal to facts as philosophical arguments. If it were a cake recipe, the philosophical notions would be the flour, his presuppositions would be the sugar, and the biblical principles would be the baking powder. Hardly the comprehensive book it is selling itself to be. Certainly this can’t be avoided, and I wouldn’t even attempt to write a book on politics suggesting that everything had Scriptural support, but the issue I take with this claim is Grudem’s response that he is not going to distinguish between these three. Instead, he leaves that up to the reader to determine if he is right. But what, then, is the purpose of a comprehensive work claiming biblical affirmation? This allows Grudem to present his views to a Christian audience without the strenuous effort of explaining his premises. He can make an emotionally charged case without Scriptural support and rest assured that he had warned his readers he would do so.
While claiming to be comprehensive, the book is 600 pages long, I feel he has failed to fully address the full spectrum of ideas. Section one is exhaustive in the sense that it addresses the wide spectrum of evangelical positions, but it is the only section where he fully expounds on opposing views. Once you get into the second section, making up the majority of the book, Grudem’s views are narrow and slanted. Instead of making the effort to explain every angle, he writes directly to his audience. Some of his arguments are solid and can be supported, but most of them are narrowly guided by his political slant.
Grudem’s conclusions could better be described as the typical evangelical default position. The reader really needs to be aware of the very real problem of confirmation bias. Grudem does not make a special effort to explain his positions to those who would disagree with his premises. Instead, he writes directly to an audience that already agrees with him. I even got the impression that many of his points were being read back into the text instead of coming from a biblical perspective. This is a dangerous method in developing a political worldview that most people won’t notice as long as they agree with them. In this way, I cannot stress enough how destructive this is in creating a sound, theological worldview.
In the end, “Politics According to the Bible” is a mix bag of common sense, conservative values, and totalitarian ideals. Though written from a conservative perspective suggesting limited government, several of his religious convictions are allowed to seep into his political perspective and influence his decision in a totalitarian way. Even though he addresses where socialism and totalitarianism are wrong, he is not able to see where he crosses that line himself. This is another major problem we are facing today because the conservative side alleges that they are fighting for limited government, but in reality, they only want to limit it in certain areas. Many of their attacks on the liberal system can be made against them as well for different policies. This is obviously not something that Grudem addresses in the book. The two parties in the system are more alike than they are willing to admit.
I was prompted on several occasions while reading through this book to write complete essays in contradiction to Grudem’s positions. (Maybe I still will through the coming month. You can start looking forward for those.) In many cases he uses bad information, relies on traditional values, and assumes the reader agrees with his premise. He quotes Aristotle, a totalitarian, on defining marriage. He uses gross logical fallacies to build his argument on national defense. Some of what he says is completely accurate, particularly about the environment and special interest groups. But in other areas he contradicts himself when suggesting that the public school system is flawed and then presenting how he would fix it without actually restructuring it. Furthermore, He wrote this several years ago before current events that would contradict several things he said. He suggest that nuclear power plants present little to no risk as a form of energy. Something I think he would retract in light of the tragedy in Japan. He supported Mitt Romney in the 2008 nomination, and he makes a special effort to attack Ron Paul. In many ways, this book already has an expiration date and it is already a couple years old.
Initially, I thought I would be able to recommend this book as a resource with some reservations. I assumed it would be a scholarly attempt to paint a wide picture of where Christians can see the full spectrum of politics according to the Bible. Sadly, I was greatly disappointed in the process which he uses to determine his convictions. It’s not that we disagree that bothers me, but how he draws many of his conclusions and fails to point out their limitations.
Grudem’s thoughts represent an older generation of conservative values which are not being translated into contemporary language. There is a major shift taking place in the next generation of the conservative party, and Grudem’s views are antiquated. It’s not that he is wrong, or that his concerns are not longer relevant, but that his method in presenting them does not speak to the people who will become the next leaders in our generation. It is like writing an instruction manual for those about to retire. For this reason, I won’t recommend this book, even as a resource guide. There are much better resources and they don’t have to carry the name of Christian or biblical in order to be trusted as authorities. So, with sadness, I can’t recommend this book.