Friday, October 15, 2010

Paul Helm on Tim Keller's 'Political Involvement'

Paul Helm, has offered some thoughts on the new book by Tim Keller, which argues that Christians ought to be politically involved. Discussing Calvin's view of Christian Liberty, Helm appeals to The Institutes, IV.10.6, and argues from Calvin that one may be in church worshipping next to someone from nearly any political persuasion. In essence, Helm says, this is the spirituality of the church:
This is the idea that the church’s business has to do solely with the Gospel, with its faithful exposition, the calling of Christians to engage in public worship, and with the consequences of this good news being received as the word of God by men and women. If Christians think their social and political views should be expressed in the public square, then they should enjoy the support of the state. But that’s the extent of it. It is uncalled-for for the church to take any particular political stance, just as it was impudent and out of order for C.H. Spurgeon to advise his hearers at the Metropolitan Tabernacle to vote Liberal at a forthcoming election. What has that to do with him? As a minister of the gospel, it was none of his business. It is as offensive to think of the Liberal Party as the Metropolitan Tabernacle at prayer, as it is to think of the Tories as the Church of England at prayer.
A more robust and plain expression of the two kingdoms would be hard to find.
These chaps, and perhaps Dr Keller as well, seem to think that a Christian’s attitude to politics is a part of Christian doctrine. But on each of the topics that they treat of - ‘human rights, law and order, the role of the family, the nature of wealth and prosperity, and public discourse’, there are umpteen different views. Who is to say what is the Christian view of human rights, or of law and order, or (even) of the family? Not to speak of the nature of wealth and prosperity, and of public discourse.
I am certainly not decided on these issues, as I am continually hearing persuasive arguments from all sides. That isn't to say that I don't have my favorites... it's just that I'm not prepared to defend them.


  1. I'm with him on the first quote, but not the second. There are umpteen different views of sin and salvation too. That doesn't therefore mean they aren't Christian doctrines.

    Also, just because their political consequences should not be our focus doesn't mean the bible doesn't have an opinion on these issues.

  2. As I understand it, the 2K view does agree with you, Brandon. They say that the Bible does have things to say on political issues, but that the church's priorities are spiritual matters. Presumably, then, you or I could have a strong opinion on abortion or the Holocaust and play our own political roles as individuals, but not speaking on official behalf of the church.

    I'm still trying to work through how those divisions work, of course, and every time I think I've figured out what my view should be, someone strikes me down with a better point from the other side. I've changed positions on this like I change my clothes.

  3. "They say that the Bible does have things to say on political issues, but that the church's priorities are spiritual matters."

    Is it a "spiritual matter" that Jesus is the King of kings? Sure. And it's political as one could ask. When people say things like the above, it comes across as a way of excusing "spiritual matters" from having any actual significance in the world.

  4. Hoff,

    "Jesus answered, 'My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world'" (John 18:36).

    I think a fitting rewording of this passage for contemporary issues might be: "Jesus answered, 'My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would vote and enact public policy, so that I might not be disobeyed. But my kingdom is not from the world.'”

  5. Walker,

    "Of this world" means of worldly origin, or of the godless world system. He didn't mean that his kingdom doesn't have authority over all earthly kingdoms, just that his kingdom doesn't operate by force and violence like worldly kingdoms do. We don't convert people with swords and guns, in other words. But God still commands all men everywhere - kings and governors and politicians included - to repent, and that's universal repentance, of sinful politics and sinful governing included.

  6. Adam, it depends which 2K view you are referring to. I thoroughly support 2K - but I thoroughly reject natural law, "bible is for the church only" 2K. That's why I distinguish between the two here:

    The most prominent/vocal 2K advocates today are natural law, "bible only for the church" people (a view advocated on this blog a few years ago when I was arguing it out with you and Josh and a few others).

  7. I appreciate the criticisms of the natural law method on your blog. I'm going to read the article by Nick Batzig that you link to, as well as the Kloosterman articles that Nick linked to.

  8. I've only read a small portion of Kloosterman, so I can't say how much I agree. But I'm at least in his general direction.

    You may also be interested in my comment to Daryl Hart on Batzig's post

  9. Brandon,

    On a side note, I had coffee last week with Klosterman. We talked about the 2K and we did not agree. Thought you would like to know that.

  10. In either case, Kloosterman's writings on that page are really clearing the issues up for me.


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