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EPS Blog

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Friday, October 2, 2009

A Call for Political Philosophy

There is no question that we live in politically volitile times. Not only is their political unrest in many places around the globe such as Iran and Korea; not only are we fighting terrorists and Islamic extremists in Iraq and Afghanistan, but right here in the good ole USA the political polarization couldn't be greater. With the economic problems and the election of Barack Obama as president, the political rhetoric has heated up more than I can ever remember it. And the debates over States' rights, the conservative tea parties, Obama's healthcare plan, various economic bailouts, immigration policy, the possibility of a looming war with Iran, not to mention the on-going "culture war" over moral issues like abortion and same sex marriage, I get the sense that our nation may be headed for political and social turmoil on a scale we haven't seen since the Civil War. I hope I'm wrong about that but I won't be surprised if I'm right.

In light of this, I believe that Christians, especially evangelical Christians, are in serious need of guidance through the political turmoil that we are already facing, not to mention the more severe upheavals that we may face in the near future. The guidance I have in mind is a guidance that evangelical philosophers can provide, namely, a well-thought, biblically grounded political philosophy. Most Christians simply do not have any significant training and education in the purpose and function of civil government and its application to the issues of the day such as nationalized healthcare, distributive justice, foreign intervention, war, etc. They simply fly by the seat of their pants and follow the folk political theory they are brought up with whether that be liberal or conservative.

At the risk of exposing my own ignorance, it seems to me that evangelical philosphers (even Christian philosophers in general) haven't done a lot of serious work in political philosophy recently. We have (no doubt rightly) focused our attention on matters more obviously apologetic such as natural theology, philosophical theology, and historical evidences for the faith. But just as we have made significant forays into ethics in order to help Christians find Christian positions and provide cultural salt and light on matters like abortion, homosexuality, and cloning, it is time perhaps to venture into political philosophy to help Christians (and our society generally) know how to form a just and responsible state.

I would very much like feedback from readers of this blog as to whether or not my sense for this need is correct and, if it is, how we might proceed in fulfilling it. (For what it's worth, Jim Spiegel and I, in our recent book The Love of Wisdom: A Christian Introduction to Philosophy, included a chapter on political philosophy that we hope can have a positive influence in this regard among undergraduates--and others!)

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Blogger Bruce said:

I don't know what the impact on culture would be if Christian philosophers provided such guidance, but I personally would be very interested in learning what Christian philosophers would say on the subject of biblical grounded political philosophy.

For instance I've often thought of the moral conundrums I'd have to face if I were a person with political power, what I should and souldn't use such power for etc.

By Blogger Bruce, at October 3, 2009 at 12:06 PM  

Blogger Jon said:

I would like to see a comparison and contrast of all of the different ways of interpreting the gospel (liberation theology, social gospel, prosperity gospel, black and feminist theology, etc) and how each contributes to various Christians' political ideology, conservative or liberal. In other words, how do Christians who serve the same Lord come up with such different political opinions, and to what extent does their theology affect this? I'm not sure if this is exactly the path you are proposing, but I think it would be interesting and might help Christians to understand their brothers and sisters on the other side of the aisle better.

By Blogger Jon, at October 3, 2009 at 1:22 PM  

Blogger Neal Audenaert said:

I think there is a critical need for some serious work in political philosophy. I think the Christian community has been very involved (for good or ill) in political activism, but in many ways may have been captured uncritically by political philosophies that owe far more to Ayn Rand than to careful reflection and application of Biblical principles.

Christians (judging from my personal experience) are increasingly thinking about these issues, but some leadership and direction from the philosophical community would be timely.

By Blogger Neal Audenaert, at October 4, 2009 at 12:45 PM  

Blogger Unknown said:

There are some very good Christian political philosophers publishing regularly now. Though they tend towards the Catholic end of Christianity. However, I have to agree that most evangelical Christians do not have a solid foundation of academic philosophers to harken back to. As a Christian, and as a graduate student, I find myself drawn more and more towards the need of a biblically-grounded political philosophy. Honestly, the Straussians and the neo-conservatives just do not cut it. We often find ourselves trying to ground our political philosophies on thinkers who are secularists. One of my reasons for not doing this kind of research sooner is because I would be kicked out of my respective program for attempting to use a biblical text as a serious political foundation. However, a friend of mine recently introduced me to Rushdoony's political philosophy. But, I understand he is quite controversial even in evangelical circles.

By Blogger Unknown, at October 6, 2009 at 11:46 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

"In light of this, I believe that Christians, especially evangelical Christians, are in serious need of guidance through the political turmoil that we are already facing, not to mention the more severe upheavals that we may face in the near future."

Hopefully, these Christians are starting with the guidance of scripture. The Bible has some wonderful advice for dealing with upheaval and turbulent times.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 10, 2009 at 8:37 AM  

Blogger Unknown said:

There is a strong flow of Christian political philosophy coming out of the Mises institute over the past 10 years. People like Shawn Ritenour, Gary North, Robert Murphy, Laurence Vance and Thomas Woods. Shawn Ritenour in particular has done some excellent work in applying the New Testament to praxeology and political economy. Thomas Woods has done the same, albeit from a Catholic perspective.

All of these guys are going to be coming from a libertarian perspective or at least a minarchism view. They make very compelling arguments. The religious-right/religious-left thing has been a distraction to say the least. These are the only guys I know of that are actually trying to come at it from a pure philosophical standpoint, instead of just towing a certain contemporary party line.

By Blogger Unknown, at November 2, 2009 at 7:58 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

I believe that the Cristians should guide this society but this means more preparation in political, theology, science and philosophy.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at November 7, 2009 at 2:07 PM  

Blogger Josiah Marineau said:

One way to go about doing this is to show that many of the individuals who provided inspiration for the founding fathers were themselves Christians. Two important figures were John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. Modern scholarship has tended to overlook the fact that both of these figures were deeply religious and their Christianity informed their political philosophies.

The danger in the proposition, however, is to commit Christianity to particular policy positions, and then to construct a political philosophy around those policy positions. Perhaps a place to start is to consider of what the relationship between Christianity and political philosophy consists. For instance, if Christians are in the world and not of the world, why should they involve themselves in political battles at all, and not simply concern themselves with conversion of souls? Is there a danger to the integrity of Christianity if becomes identified with a political position, rather than the individual pursuit of a relationship with God?

I think a contemporary political philosophy which seeks to reconcile itself to the doctrines of Christianity first has answer such basic questions as these.

By Blogger Josiah Marineau, at November 26, 2009 at 9:01 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

What we are really talking about here is an attempt to build the platform for a great Reformation; not one pitting Protestant against pope. But one in which Christianity squares off against secular humanism and all its attendant evils on both the right and left.

And I think this philosophy also needs to embrace and integrate the Biblical truth that this world is passing away anyway, when it considers what its "purpose" is to be.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at December 10, 2009 at 1:30 PM  

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