26 December 2016

The 'Kuyperian' Warfield

B. B. Warfield
During this Christmas season, I think it is most appropriate to post this wonderful passage from one of the writings of the great Princeton theologian, Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (1851-1921). In Reformed Christian apologetics, Warfield and Abraham Kuyper are often seen as opposed to each other, as the former focuses on evidences for the faith while the latter emphasizes the presuppositions that either support or oppose the faith. However, the following passage, taken from Warfield's collection of sermons, Saviour of the World, indicates that we ought not to overstate their differences and that they were at one in their understanding of the nature of redemption in Jesus Christ as encompassing the whole creation. I have broken up the passage into smaller paragraphs for easier reading.

It belongs to the glory of Christ that His salvation enters into every region of human need and proclaims in all alike complete deliverance. Even the lower creation, by virtue of the relation in which it stands to man, partakes in his redemption. If the very ground was cursed for man's sake that the place of his abode might sympathetically partake in his punishment, no less shall it share in his restoration. Man's sighs are not the only expression of the evil that curses human life in its sinful development. The whole creation groans and travails together with him. But it shares also in the hope of the coming deliverance.

For there shall be a new heaven, we are told, and a new earth. Under these new heavens, in this new earth, shall gather redeemed humanity, in the perfection of its idea, and in perfect harmony with its perfected environment. In the perfection of physical vigour: for what is sown in corruption shall have been raised in incorruption, what is sown in dishonour shall have been raised in glory, what is sown in weakness shall have been raised in power, what is sown in selfishness shall have been raised in spirituality. In the perfection of social organization and intercourse: for there shall be none to hurt or destroy in all God's holy mountain, and all the people of the Lord shall have learned righteousness. In the perfection of spiritual communion with God: for then it is that the Lord shall make Himself known to His people and shall dwell with them, and they shall need no Temple to which men should require to repair in order to meet the Lord, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are the Temple thereof, and the grace of the Lord shall flow down the streets in a river of the water of Life washing into every nook and corner.

Such is the picture the Scriptures draw for us of the salvation of our God. And let us not fail to note that it is a picture of a saved world. As no sphere of human life is left untouched by it; as on its touch, every sphere of human life is transformed; so the completeness and the profundity of its renovation of man is matched by the wideness of its extension over man. It is the renewed heavens and the renewed earth that we are bidden to contemplate; and dwelling in them in endless bliss renewed humanity. Renewed humanity; not a meagre company withdrawn from the sin-festering race, but the race itself, cleansed and purified and gathered home to the Father's arms; not without loss suffered by the way, it is true, for there are some who shall not enter into this holy city; but with all losses made good, all breaks in the ranks filled up, and all lacks and wants supplied by Him who has redeemed it to Himself and led it to its new estate of perfection in itself and eternal communion with Him. Such is the salvation that has been wrought out for us by Christ (Warfield, The Savior of the World, pp. 49-50).

"And He shall reign forever and ever!"

21 December 2016

The old neighbourhood

I grew up in a modest neighbourhood in a suburb of Chicago in the 1960s. My parents built their first home there in 1958 for the princely sum of $19,000! It was a three-bedroom ranch that shared the same basic design with a row of ranches on the south side of the street. On the north side were a line of one-and-a-half storey bungalows with dormers on the roofs. As children we played regularly with the other children who lived around us, and our parents generally knew each other and would occasionally be at each other’s homes. The elementary school was right on the opposite corner from us, and we mixed freely together in the school and playground.

Although this was not an old neighbourhood, having been laid out shortly after the end of the war, it was good neighbourhood where people chatted with each other and seemed to have a sense of community.

There were some colourful characters living near us. The elderly couple we all feared because they didn’t like children playing in their yard. A woman whom we called “Mrs Fritzy” after the eponymous dachshund she walked past our house every day. The man who had spent ten years in the Soviet GULAG and travelled around lecturing on the threat of communism. The sports writer for the Chicago Sun-Times who briefly lived across the street and almost immediately moved away after his divorce. The professor with three PhDs who would regularly come to our house to borrow, of all things, our dictionary.

We lived there for ten years, but they were formative years for my siblings and me. We were Presbyterians attending a public school named for a New England transcendentalist. I knew which children in my classes were protestants and which Catholic, and at least two of my teachers were evangelicals, one of whom had a Frisian surname and was a member of our church. Although a girl in my sister’s class was an atheist—an exotic specimen in my hometown—our school nevertheless put on a full Christmas programme every year, complete with carols about the birth of Christ. And then there was the Fun-o-Rama, a spring fund-raising bazaar in which everyone participated in some fashion.

Our town was in a flood plane, and an especially malodorous creek flowed behind our house. On a dare from a friend, I swung over the creek on a rope hanging from a tree branch, only to have the rope break and find myself plunging into the filthy waters below, much to the irritation of my long-suffering parents.

Having had such a wonderful childhood, I find it easy to become nostalgic about our old neighbourhood. I still dream occasionally of that ranch house in which we somehow managed to squeeze eight people—albeit not exactly comfortably. It was not a perfect neighbourhood, but we nevertheless made the time to cultivate the bonds of friendship with the people living around us.

Is this still true today? Do neighbourhoods still have a sense of community? I cannot speak for everyone, of course, but judging from my own experience I fear it may be a thing of the past. Houses are consumer items that we purchase, knowing full well that we are likely to sell them again at some point. We put a lot of our financial resources into our homes, trying to maintain and even increase their value so that they can be resold easily when the time comes. But this makes whatever community exists in a neighbourhood very transient indeed. We are committed to our homes, but less to the communities of which we are supposed to be part.

What if a group of friends were to buy up adjacent homes with the intention, not just of securing their own economic well-being, but of building community and improving the shared life of the surrounding neighbourhood? It might be even better than the neighbourhood in which I grew up so many years ago.

This was first published in the 14 November issue of Christian Courier. Please subscribe today.

16 December 2016

A student poem

One of the real joys I've experienced this past term is teaching two sections of a humanities course, Western Culture and Tradition I, which forms part of the new core curriculum at Redeemer University College. I love teaching political science, of course, but I've found that preparing this new course has allowed me to bring more of myself and my various interests into the classroom. Altogether I've taught around seventy-five students, or about half of the incoming class.

Among other things, we discussed the history of the earliest Christians who were often subject to persecution under the Roman imperial authorities. We noted that the ancient symbol of the faith, by which Christians were able to identify each other, was the fish. The Greek word for fish at that time was ΙΧΘΥΣ, an acronym for:

Ιησούς = Jesus
Χριστός = Christ
Θεού = of God
Υιός = Son
Σωτήρ = Saviour

Throughout the term, the students handed in journal reflections on either a text we studied or a cultural artefact such as a building or a work of art. I allowed for some creativity in the assignment, and one student came up with a striking poem on the fish symbol in the form of perfect Petrarchan sonnet:


I tread alone in vacant Roman roads
And hide in shadows cast by morning glows.
I glance from side to side for any foes
Who might appear from dubious abodes.

A sudden light in front of me forebodes
A passerby who might a danger pose.
My hand, though hesitating to disclose,
A single arch upon the sand encodes.

A mirror arch he scratches in the sand.
A fish we've drawn, two parts becoming one.
His shining face the rising sun now greets.

I've found a brother in a hostile land.
We fully trust in Father, Spirit, Son,
And stride abreast through swarming city streets.

Daniel Vander Hout, first-year student, HUM-110, December 2016

I commend Mr Vander Hout who, at such a young age, already manifests promising poetic skills. Bravo!

22 September 2016

The downside of deindustrialization

One summer in her youth my mother worked at the Willow Run factory in suburban Detroit where the short-lived Kaiser-Frazer automobiles were manufactured. The plant had been constructed just ahead of America’s entry into the Second World War for the production of B-24 Liberator bombers, which began rolling off the assembly line in 1941. A month after Japan’s destruction of the US naval fleet at Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt established the Wartime Production Board to supervise the conversion of the country’s industrial might from civilian to military purposes. This adaptation was crucial to the Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany and imperial Japan.

During my childhood Detroit continued to manufacture the automobiles that had become indispensable to American life, fuelling the nation’s economy. In fact, my maternal grandfather was working on an assembly line at a General Motors plant in Pontiac, Michigan, while I was growing up.

Half a century later North America’s thoroughfares are largely filled with Japanese, German and Korean automobiles, with GM, Ford and Chrysler marques definitely in the minority. What happened to our domestic automobiles? Where did our manufacturing jobs go? Often they were exported to Mexico or overseas where nonunionized labour is less expensive and government regulations lax. In 1979 nearly 20 million workers were employed in manufacturing jobs, but by 2007 fewer than 14 million held jobs in this sector, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over five million manufacturing jobs were lost just during the eleven-year period following the turn of the millennium, which indicates that the decline has accelerated in recent years.

Is this decline a bad thing? If increasing numbers of employees are now sitting at desks staring at computer screens, is this something to lament? Not necessarily, but it may be a sign of an unbalanced economy.

Free-trade liberals tend to extol the virtues of an international division of labour, in which production of goods and services varies from one country to the next. If each country had to produce everything internally for its own people, huge numbers would not have life’s basics. Switzerland lacks arable soil, while Canada is one of the world’s breadbaskets. We buy Swiss watches and they buy foodstuffs. Everyone gains. Our “buy local” movements may not see this as clearly as others do.

Nevertheless, the deindustrializing trends of the past half century are producing a world in which brain and brawn are more geographically distant from each other than ever before. There have long been white- and blue-collar neighbourhoods in our cities. But now we may be seeing the rise of white-collar and blue-collar countries, where the differing legal systems prevent the development of healthy workplaces and labour relationships, especially in poorer countries attempting to live at the whims of the wealthy west’s consumption choices.

But there’s also a negative for the western countries. Given the rapid decline of industry, especially in the US, there is reason to doubt that that country could repeat its impressive performance in the Second World War. If a new leader were to arise elsewhere bent on world domination, would an effort to convert a shrinking industrial base to military use be sufficient to carry the day against such a determined enemy?

The General Motors plant in Pontiac, Michigan, is long gone, and GM closed the historic Willow Run factory in 2010. No one can deny that changing economies are a reality to which we must adjust as well as possible. Yet it may be time to work towards rebalancing our economies to put more unskilled labourers to work, to renew our manufacturing bases, and to lessen the widening division of labour between the west and the rest.

David T. Koyzis is the author of Political Visions and Illusions (2003) and We Answer to Another: Authority, Office, and the Image of God (2014). He teaches politics and humanities at Redeemer University College. This post appeared in the 13 June issue of Christian Courier.

20 July 2016

The impossibility of equal concern: compassion is no substitute for justice

In recent months, terrorist attacks in different parts of the world have left scores of people dead and injured. Attacks have occurred in Paris, Beirut, Brussels, Orlando, Istanbul, Baghdad, and now Nice. After each of these episodes, North Americans are moved to express solidarity with the victims. On Facebook, such expressions generally consist of overlaying one’s profile picture with the colors of the French flag or posting a meme proclaiming “Je Suis Charlie” or something similar. Alternatively, we link to stories about the tragedy for friends and family to read.

But, as many have pointed out with some embarrassment, we do not offer our sympathies equally to everyone. We are more likely to express horror at attacks in Brussels, Orlando, and Nice than at attacks in Istanbul, Beirut, and Baghdad. Part of the relative inattention to Beirut and Baghdad is due to the fact that, because these cities have so often been war zones, violent acts are not altogether unexpected there, sad to say. We have become inured to the chronic bloodshed in the Middle East. An attack on Brussels, however, catches us off guard. We are horrified because Brussels is a peaceful city in which violence on such a scale is rare.

But there is another reason for the inequality in our expressions of concern. Culturally speaking, Paris and Brussels are more like New York and Toronto than are Beirut and Baghdad. We tend naturally to sympathize with people who are like ourselves. Even educated Western cosmopolitans who castigate everyone else for being too parochial in their concerns tend to sympathize more with other educated Western cosmopolitans than with, well, everyone else.

Excessive parochialism is, of course, a bad thing insofar as it tempts us to ignore the evil and suffering outside of our own communities. Nevertheless, we must always bear in mind that a functioning society has diverse spheres of responsibility in which individual actors properly care more for the things that are closest to them. This is something Aristotle understood better than Plato. And Tocqueville had a better grasp of it than Rousseau. While we may aspire to have equal regard for everyone without discrimination, in reality we are limited creatures with limited abilities. Our capacity for compassion is thus limited as well. When my daughter falls and scrapes her knee, my compassion for her is much greater than for the little girl down the street who does the same. And that is as it should be.

The problem arises when we tie compassion too closely to justice. True, compassion is often a motive to do justice. My own decision to study politics as a young man was motivated in part by compassion for my paternal relatives who had lost their homes during Turkey's invasion of Cyprus in 1974. But I quickly came to understand that compassion is no substitute for concrete policy proposals, and that justice is more likely to be accomplished by hard work and the willingness to compromise than by claiming that such-and-such is the compassionate thing to do.

Furthermore, if we move too quickly from compassion to justice, we are at great risk of miscarrying justice. Why? Because if I seek “justice” only for those with whom I am personally able to identify, I may be unwilling to take into account the competing claims of a party I find less sympathetic.

Justice must be based on equitable treatment under a law that applies to everyone. When it comes time to weigh various interests in the balance, our political leaders must make their policy decisions without bias towards one side or another. Importing the language of compassion into the political or judicial processes could tempt decision-makers to tip the balance in favour of those with whom they can most readily identify—and that, of course, would be nothing less than injustice.

This is cross-posted at First Thoughts.

14 July 2016

Correcting Carver

Last October in this space I analyzed the Policy Governance® model that originated with Dr. John Carver and has been adopted by an increasing number of Christian organizations, including educational institutions. While admitting that there were good reasons to find the model attractive and efficient in theory, I suggested that in practice its considerable flaws should warn boards away from adopting it wholesale.

First, it expects too much of members of a volunteer board in ensuring the continuation of the organization’s mission, especially in the absence of multiple sources of information about the life of the organization. Without such information, the board will not be able to exercise sufficient oversight, the likely result being a loss of the mission.

Second, it removes the board from the life of the institution, which is precisely the opposite of what should happen. The board needs to be aware of what staff are doing, and they need to hear it from the staff members themselves.

Third, it places too much power in the hands of a single person, the chief executive officer (CEO), who is expected to be the sole source of information to the board on the state of the organization as a whole. If the CEO errs in his or her estimation of the health of the organization, the board may not discover this until too late, because it has not heard other, possibly dissenting, voices.

Plato famously thought that the best form of government would be rule by one or more philosopher-kings. The problem with his prescription is that, even in the best of circumstances, philosopher-kings are rarely available. This reality prompted Plato’s successors, including Aristotle, to opt for a second best, namely, the rule of law. John Carver seems to be a modern Plato, arguing for a board governance model that takes insufficient account of human nature and assumes too much of the CEO. So what is the alternative? I have three suggestions for alleviating the defects of the Policy Governance model:

First, there should be structured opportunities for interaction between board members and employees. If this is an educational institution, then faculty, who are on the front lines of its mission, should definitely participate. This will prevent board members too easily accepting the notion that what employees do is “completely immaterial,” as Carver unwisely puts it, to the board’s work. Such interaction could be as informal as assigning a few board members to circulate among staff (or faculty) on a normal workday to hear what things are like in the trenches, or it could take the form of regular gatherings with an agenda set by the board. It is preferable to have multiple sources of information available rather than leaving all communication in the hands of a single person.

Second, if the organization is a Christian university, the board should be formally interviewing faculty when they receive tenure, promotion, and renewal of tenure. The board should retain responsibility for approving these matters and not delegate them to the CEO.

Third, in a Christian institution of higher education, any effort to dismiss faculty or administrators should have the input and approval of the board and should not be delegated to the CEO alone. This will lessen the possibility of abuse.

An anonymous 19th-century Russian once observed that every country has its own constitution and that his country’s was absolutism moderated by assassination. I would not go so far as to liken the Carver model to such unstable political rule. Nevertheless, a workable form of board governance must find middle ground between giving the CEO a free hand and sacking him or her. The Carver model lacks this flexibility, at least without the checks I’ve proposed here.

As a people steeped in a biblical understanding of humanity and creation, we can surely do better than the Carver model. In the meantime I offer these three proposals for mitigating its worst features.

This post appeared in the 11 July 2016 issue of Christian Courier as part of the author's long-running column, Principalities & Powers.

09 July 2016

Os Salmos e a Primeira Guerra Mundial

One of my articles from two years ago has been published in Portuguese for primarily Brazilian readers: Os Salmos e a Primeira Guerra Mundial. Here is the original: One Hundred Years Later: The Psalms and the First World War.

28 June 2016

Unity and independence: How Asymmetrical Federalism Might Allow for an Independent United Kingdom within the European Union

In the aftermath of last week's vote in Great Britain to leave the European Union, a number observers have expressed support of the British electorate's narrow decision. There is undoubtedly something satisfying in seeing ordinary people stand up to progressive élites overly attached to their cosmopolitan dreams. Yet I would like to register a qualified dissent on the issue. Yes, EU institutions are hampered by the so-called democratic deficit, and many Europeans can be forgiven for thinking that “eurocrats” in Brussels do not have their best interests at heart. Because their own domestic political institutions seem more evidently responsive to their interests, they are willing to use them to assert their national particularities against an abstract universalism threatening the imposition of an artificial homogeneity.

That said, it is worth remembering that the principal architects of the European Union in the 1950s were devout Catholics who understood the principle of subsidiarity as set forth in the social encyclicals of Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI. Out of the debris of the two world wars, Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, Alcide de Gasperi, Konrad Adenauer, and others sought to build a European federation that would transcend the national antagonisms that had plunged the old continent into conflict twice in thirty years. In so doing, they sought also to move beyond past efforts at unity from a single imperial center. What Napoleon and Hitler had sought to do from the top down the European Union would accomplish from the ground up, at once preserving the best of national autonomy and securing the advantages of greater unity.

We must remember, as well, that the Christian tradition carries within itself, not only the seeds of counter-cosmopolitan localism, but of political universalism, as exemplified in Dante Aligheri's De Monarchia, but even in the old Holy Roman Empire, which claimed some form of preeminence within western Christendom. Reflecting this tradition, the late Otto von Habsburg, son of the last Austro-Hungarian Emperor and King, worked tirelessly for European unity, and very much out of a Catholic worldview.

Moreover, in 1992 the Maastricht Treaty explicitly enshrined the principle of subsidiarity for the future union:

In areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Community shall take action, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be efficiently achieved by the Member states and can therefore, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved by the Community.

In many respects this principle corresponds to the tenth amendment to the United States Constitution which provides that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” It should be possible for local identities to survive within a larger federal union. The American founders certainly thought so and staked their country's future on it.

Of course, it could be argued that Washington has moved well beyond the powers originally enumerated in Article 1, section 8, encroaching on the prerogatives of the several states in ways not intended by the founders. Across the pond we hear similar arguments that Brussels has violated the spirit of subsidiarity, with the larger dream of unity taking on a life of its own at the expense of the hugely diverse interests of the member states. Hence EU leaders were shocked when French and Dutch voters rejected their proposed European constitution just over a decade ago. And now they are similarly incredulous that any country would want out of the Union altogether, when its benefits seem so obvious to them.

Yet this tale of discontent need not be the whole story. It may well be that future federations will more resemble the Holy Roman Empire or the pre-1848 Swiss confederation than the United States of America or Australia. Canada and Spain have already led the way towards a more asymmetrical federalism in which provinces or regions relate to the federal or central government in different ways. The notion that all component units of a federation must be treated the same is itself an abstraction that may be hindering just governance. If one of your children requires braces on her teeth, you wouldn't think of getting braces for all of your children for the sake of equality of treatment. Similarly, if one state or province aspires to greater autonomy than the others in certain policy areas, granting this in no way undermines just governance and may in fact facilitate it. While formally possessing the same powers as the other provinces as set out in section 92 of Canada's Constitution Act, 1867, Québec in practice exercises certain powers, for example, over language, that the other provinces are content to leave to Ottawa. While Spain is formally a unitary state, Madrid has devolved powers unevenly to its regions, with Euskadi (the Basque region) and Catalunya retaining more autonomy than others.

If we abandon the peculiarly modern quest for strict equality of treatment, it should be possible for the EU to function with its member states unevenly integrated into the whole. A two- or three-tier Union would be the result. France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries might be the most tightly integrated federal core of the Union, with no internal border controls restricting the free movement of persons and goods. Other states could remain members of the Union but opt out of some of its integrating features, including the euro zone and the Schengen Agreement. These would retain greater autonomy vis-à-vis Brussels, keeping their own currencies and central banks, along with other markers of independent nationhood.

Such an arrangement may seem terribly untidy and chaotic, but the reality need not be so. If subsidiarity means that as many decisions as possible are made at the lowest levels closest to the people affected, then an unevenly decentralized European Union may, after all, best conform to this principle. If the British people prefer that London (or Edinburgh, Cardiff, or Belfast) take responsibility for matters that the core members prefer to delegate to Brussels, then there is no reason why this should not be permitted. Great Britain could remain part of the EU while, fully in accordance with subsidiarity, claiming as much independence as it needs and can handle.

A bare majority for Brexit is hardly a ringing endorsement of such a momentous move, which threatens to fragment the United Kingdom itself. Better, it seems to me, to opt for both independence and continued membership in the EU, even if it means abandoning the artificial symmetry characterizing the classic modern constitutional federation.

A slightly different version of this is posted at First Thoughts.

15 June 2016

O liberalismo e a igreja: Liberalism and the church

Yet another article of mine can be read at tuporém: O liberalismo e a igreja: Como a espiritualidade pura deixa o ego no comando. This is a translation of Liberalism and the Church: How mere spirituality leaves the ego in charge. An excerpt:

É comum nesses dias ouvir as pessoas dizendo que são espirituais, mas não religiosas. Pura espiritualidade deixa o ego no comando, e igrejas de sucesso fazem seu melhor para recorrer a esse ego. Por outro lado, religião implica certa forma de ligação (Latim: religare) das pessoas com um determinando caminho de obediência não escolhida pela própria pessoa.

It is common these days to hear people claim to be spiritual but not religious. Mere spirituality leaves the ego in charge, and successful churches try their best to appeal to this ego. On the other hand, religion implies a certain binding (Latin: religare) of the person to a particular path of obedience not set by the person herself.

30 May 2016

Justice and reality

Nearly a quarter of a century ago the United States Supreme Court claimed to have expanded dramatically the scope of liberty in its famous decision, Planned Parenthood vs. Casey. One sentence in particular stands out for its breathtaking vision of the extraordinary possibilities apparently available to ordinary human beings: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” The author of this “sweet mystery of life” passage was Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has been on the court since 1988.

On the surface it seems as though this decision simply affirms something approximating religious freedom, that is, the right to believe or to disbelieve in God. A citizen of the United States is at liberty to decide which spiritual path to follow without undue interference from the state. The very next sentence appears to bear this out: “Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.”

Justice therefore would seem to entail allowing people as much liberty as possible in those matters deemed most personal and intimate. Or, as our current Prime Minister’s late father once put it: “There's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” However self-evidently good this newly discovered liberty might seem at first glance, the current judicial régimes in both countries appear to have declared our freedom from reality itself – a dream once thought to be limited to utopians and revolutionaries. Yet if we take Kennedy’s words seriously, we have now become little gods, fully authorized to define liberty to suit our own conception of the cosmos, to which everyone else is now expected to conform. An otherwise salutary effort to curtail state compulsion has now effectively expanded the same.

For the past decade and a half the Canadian government has claimed the authority to redefine marriage by eliminating sexual complementarity as a necessary feature. Last year the US Supreme Court imposed this new definition on all fifty states, despite the objections of many of those states’ citizens at the polls. The most recent bone of contention has to do with the individual’s right to choose between male and female washrooms in public settings. If a man genuinely believes himself to be a woman deep down, does justice require permitting him to enter through the door marked women? Or do the biological women using this facility have a right to privacy that trumps this man’s self-definition?

These are the sorts of disputes that inevitably follow any serious attempt to implement the notion that we define ourselves irrespective of our embodied nature and the judgement of others. Such disputes inevitably call forth the strong arm of government for resolution.

The late Václav Havel, writing of his own Soviet-era Czechoslovakia, affirmed that political ideologies try to pass off appearances for reality itself. They build a self-contained pseudo-reality to which everyone is expected to pay lip service. In this alternative universe slavery passes for liberty, censorship for free speech, bureaucracy for democracy, and arbitrary power for legal authority. Those caught up in this régime are compelled to “live within a lie.” Anyone daring to point out that this pseudo-reality is, well, unreal can expect to suffer ostracism or possibly much worse.

To be sure, the current political climate in North America is not as bad as that of the former Soviet Union and its clients. Nevertheless, a similar spirit is at work here. That spirit tells us that we are autonomous, capable of authoring, not only our own actions, but reality itself. And if others are clever enough to see through our self-deceptions, they will have to be silenced – gently, one hopes.

What then of those who persist in believing, to paraphrase the Heidelberg Catechism, that we are not our own and that our world belongs to God? What of those who believe that a loving God created the cosmos and placed us at its pinnacle to fashion the rest of creation into cultural artefacts and to live according to principles that God himself authored? The current secular orthodoxy generously permits us to believe these things privately, and it is even willing to allow us some space to live them out, but only if they do not conflict with its own expanded understanding of individual liberty as self-definition.

In the meantime Christians will have to be content to live against the grain of the larger society, recognizing that we answer to Another to whom we owe our ultimate allegiance.

This appeared in the author's Principalities & Powers column in Christian Courier's 9 May 2016 issue.

15 April 2016

Com que autoridade? By what authority?

Another of my articles has appeared in Portuguese on the túporem website: Com que autoridade? This is a translation of By What Authority? The Limits of Niebuhr's Transformational Christianity.

14 April 2016

England’s greatest export

Anglophiles. We all know them. They like everything English, from marmalade and Earl Grey tea to shepherd’s pie, blood pudding and spotted dick. (Google it! Trust me; it’s not what it sounds like.) They avidly watched the concluding episode of Downton Abbey last month and may even affect certain British pronunciations in their speech. They like the BBC and probably worship – if they go in for that sort of thing – at a high Anglican church.

Some three centuries ago a certain French aristocrat surnamed Montesquieu (1689-1755) was a different sort of Anglophile. A lawyer and man of letters, he spent two years in England and was favourably impressed by the experience. He had come to admire in particular England’s political institutions for their durability and reputation for protecting liberty. Through many centuries of constitutional development, the subjects of the English king enjoyed rights that the French could only dream of. Beginning with Magna Carta (1215) and extending up through the Petition of Right (1628) and Bill of Rights (1689), the powers of the king had gradually been limited and parliamentary government came into the ascendancy.

This was in stark contrast to his own country, whose political life had been relentlessly centralized in the person of the monarch. “L’état c’est moi!” King Louis XIV famously uttered. “I am the state!” From Montesquieu’s side of La Manche (the English Channel), England looked pretty good, with its division of sovereignty amongst King, Lords and Commons; its jury system; and its balanced constitution. No one in particular had invented this form of government; it simply came about by happy circumstance – and, of course, a fair bit of conflict.

In 1748 Montesquieu published his political ideas in The Spirit of the Laws. “One nation there is also in the world that has for the direct end of its constitution political liberty,” he wrote, with reference to England. Some four decades later on this side of the pond, the leaders of the newly independent American states drew heavily on Montesquieu’s magnum opus in fashioning their own constitutional document. There was perhaps a certain irony in Americans, who had just won a war for independence from England, borrowing from English models as interpreted by an admiring Frenchman. Yet for generations Americans had been accustomed to representative institutions inherited from the motherland. One of the key features they incorporated into their system was the separation of powers, thought at the time to characterize England’s constitution.

A century later, however, things looked rather different in what by then had become the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Writing in 1867, the journalist Walter Bagehot argued that the genius of The English Constitution (the title of his book on the subject) was not a separation of powers, but a “fusion of powers,” namely, the concentration of both legislative and executive powers in the cabinet, making for a highly efficient system able to get things done with a minimum of fuss. This is what we now know as the Westminster system of responsible government: the government of the day governs as long as it enjoys the confidence of the Commons, and if that confidence is withdrawn, the government resigns.

In the same year Bagehot published his influential book, our own Fathers of Confederation created a new federal union of four of the British North American colonies. Drawing again on their own political experience, they transplanted the Westminster system into the Dominion of Canada. A little over a generation later Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland and South Africa would follow suit, each operating under a more or less identical arrangement.

The British Parliament is often styled the “Mother of Parliaments,” due to its having been replicated in so many other countries. Because the English constitution has proven so durable and flexible in its homeland, it has been widely imitated. If the United States and Canada appear now to have different political systems based on contrasting principles, it is because each drew on England’s constitution at different stages in its development. Nevertheless, the two forms have served our respective countries well, and we could certainly do a lot worse.

Am I an Anglophile then? Well, I couldn’t manage to get past season two of Downton Abbey, so perhaps not. Nevertheless, I thank God to have lived my life in two countries that are heir to a highly successful political system with an enviable reputation of doing public justice over a vast swath of the globe’s surface.

David T. Koyzis is the author of Political Visions and Illusions (2003) and We Answer to Another:Authority, Office, and the Image of God (2014). He teaches politics at Redeemer University College and has lived in Canada for just over half his life. This post was published in the author's Principalities & Powers column in the 11 April 2016 issue of Christian Courier.

05 April 2016

On civil disobedience

For one day only my Christianity Today article is out from behind the paywall: Is It Time for American Christians to Disobey the Government? Tomorrow I will be interviewed on the subject of this article on Let's Talk with Mark Elfstrand over radio station WYLL AM 1160 in Chicago.

04 April 2016

The tempering of democracy: How recovering the classical mixed constitution could affect the way we vote

No, it isn't just about Trump. Or Clinton or Sanders. It's about democracy itself, which most of us have come to think of as an unmitigated good. Throughout much of western history, however, democracy had a bad reputation, often seen as the penultimate stage in a constitution's degeneration, to be followed by that absolute worst form of government, tyranny. Plato in particular had many reasons to oppose democracy, which had led Athens into a disastrous war with Sparta and to the death of his revered mentor Socrates. The lesson for Plato seemed obvious: No ship's captain in his right mind would poll his crew on the best way to run the ship; he would instead rely on his own specialized knowledge. Similarly, a statesman who knows the art of statesmanship should govern according to this knowledge, not according to the shifting whims of a fickle and untutored public.

Plato's political philosophy has been castigated as unabashedly élitist, as something out of step with our own times. Nevertheless his fear of democracy was shared by most of the western tradition until very recently. Sir Winston Churchill gave democracy a backhanded compliment when he famously called it “the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

By contrast, one-time American presidential aspirant Alfred E. Smith offered a different diagnosis: “the cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy.” Over the past century the United States has moved increasingly in Smith's more evidently ideological direction rather than following Churchill's more cautious path. If the American founders established a federal republic similar in many respects to Great Britain's 18th-century constitution, their 19th- and 20th-century successors moved decisively to democratize as many institutions as they could manage, including the presidency, the Senate (1913) and many lower-level courts. These efforts gathered steam in the early years of the last century as the Progressive Movement sought at once to break the power of the old party bosses and to bring the insights of the social sciences to bear on public life.

One of the Progressives' key reforms was to institute a limited number of internal party primary elections as a way of testing a prospective candidate's appeal to the electorate. A candidate's performance in these pre-elections would be taken into account by the delegates to the party's convention later in the year, but they were by no means determinative of a victor in the larger nomination process. Generally there were still battles to be fought and decisions to be made at the convention itself.

This all changed when in 1968 the Democratic convention meeting in Chicago chose Vice-President Hubert Humphrey as its presidential nominee, despite his not having entered a single primary election beforehand. The resulting outrage within the party led to reforms aimed at further democratizing the nomination process, thereby carrying to its conclusion a process begun decades earlier. No more smoke-filled rooms where party bosses would choose a presidential candidate. Now the people themselves would choose the candidate through an increasing number of primaries and state party caucuses, the results of which would bind the convention delegates. A brokered convention would thus be rendered increasingly unlikely, and a party going into an election with an evidently weak presidential and vice-presidential team would be powerless to find replacements so late in the process. This unintended consequence has negatively affected both Democrats and Republicans at various times.

Might we do well to admit, not that democracy is a bad thing, but that too much democracy can harm a country's constitution? Indeed, if the prudential judgment in favor of democracy becomes an ideological democratism, animated by a belief in the infallibility of the popular will, the possibilities of abuse multiply accordingly. Candidates and parties are tempted to make promises that they must know they cannot keep and that no government, qua government, may even be competent to fulfill. Philosopher Yves R. Simon once wrote: “Any regime, in order to work well or merely to survive, needs or may need the operation of principles distinct from, and opposed to, its own idea.” Though this adage is not restricted to democracy, it definitely includes it: “a nondemocratic principle may serve democracy by holding in check forces fatal to it.” Some of those forces are the unintended side-effects of democracy itself, especially if the democratic principle is extended too far and the general will of the people comes to trump the rule of law.

Indeed even the rule of law is a nondemocratic principle, sorely needed to hold in check the potentially arbitrary whims of the popular will. But much more is needed. Beginning with Polybios in the 2nd century BC, many political philosophers concluded that the best constitution is one that incorporates elements of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy into a composite form. While each of the three alone tends to degenerate into an abusive distortion of just government, the mixed constitution will be more durable, as monarchical, aristocratic and democratic elements check each other. In some fashion, Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin endorsed the mixed constitution. In the 18th century Baron Montesquieu admired the English constitution whose durability and protection of liberty he ascribed to its division of powers, including a balanced relationship between King, Lords, and Commons; an independent judiciary; and the jury system.

Two generations later the American founders drew on Montesquieu as they undertook to establish a new federal government characterized by checks and balances among three branches of government and a federal division of powers. And in the following century, Canada's Fathers of Confederation set up “a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom,” consisting of a popularly elected House of Commons, an appointed Senate and an appointed Governor General to represent the Queen. While recognizing the need for democratic participation in public affairs, they were under no illusions that they were creating an unqualified democracy and had no difficulty retaining nondemocratic institutions as integral components of the larger political framework.

What relevance does the classical mixed constitution have for choosing candidates for public office? The need for democracy is satisfied by giving citizens a choice between two or more candidates thoroughly vetted by their respective party organizations and presented to the people as the best persons for the job. The aristocratic principle—necessary in all political systems—should come into play within the parties themselves as would-be candidates are screened in accordance with established criteria to insure a high level of competence and personal integrity. Only then would they be brought before the public for their verdict.

I am reluctant, of course, to advocate the abolition of primary elections and a return to the smoke-filled rooms of the past. In this democratic age, even the faintest whiff of élitism could elicit a negative response from many quarters. Nevertheless, as a potential voter, I would prefer to think that the leaders of whichever party I favor have done everything they can to nominate a quality candidate before I have to make a choice. Is that too much to ask?

This post is cross-listed at First Thoughts.

03 April 2016

Confessions of a dual citizen

As many readers may already know, I was born an American citizen just outside of Chicago, becoming a Canadian a little over two decades ago. As my birth family was politically minded, I became aware at an early age of events in our country and in the larger world. My earliest memory was of the 1960 presidential campaign, while easily the most traumatic event of my childhood was the assassination of President John Kennedy. The Cold War and the threat of communism were near the surface of our thoughts much of the time, especially because one of our neighbours had been a prisoner in the Soviet Gulag for 10 years after the end of the war.

Presidential election campaigns always elicited our interest. In those years both parties had progressive and conservative wings. White Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics tended to vote Democratic, while northern evangelical and mainline Protestants generally voted Republican. Democrats and Republicans were not that far apart, both claiming to stand in the larger liberal tradition, differing only on which party was its legitimate heir.

However, in the time I’ve lived in Canada the politics of my home country have become unrecognizable and increasingly puzzling, even to an academic political scientist. In 2008 Americans voted into the presidency a man whose campaign machine portrayed him in near messianic terms. Promising to reunite a polarized nation, he instead pursued divisive policies that indicated, among other things, a lack of understanding of the importance of religious freedom, especially outside the four walls of a church building. Yet his overall demeanour was presidential – almost regal – and he managed to inspire confidence with most of the electorate.

Unfortunately, his two opponents in 2008 and 2012 were less than outstanding contenders, and the results of the two elections only increased the polarization of the electorate.

This year in particular has me scratching my head, as Americans are supporting more extreme candidates in both parties.

Donald Trump has no political experience to speak of, but considerable familiarity with the dark world of rapacious capitalism, going so far as to sue an elderly widow over her house, which stood on property he coveted for one of his real estate developments. With his outrageous statements, Trump is obviously tapping into a vein of anger coursing through a certain segment of the electorate, bringing to the American scene something of the flavour of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Nostalgia for a past when America was apparently greater than it is now somewhat parallels Russian wistfulness for a vanished Soviet Union.

On the Democratic side, increasing numbers of Americans support a professed democratic socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. In the past, the very word socialism was the kiss of death in a political campaign. After 1932, which represents the high water mark for a socialist party at the polls, it became tainted by at least verbal associations with German national socialism and Soviet-style communism, whose ideological illusions left scores of millions of victims in their wake.

However, Sanders’ socialism lacks the communitarian element in most socialist movements. He is something of a political loner, more resembling Jimmy Stewart in the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington than Vladimir Lenin or even our own Thomas Mulcair. Instead Sanders is more of a Roosevelt-style New Dealer, pushing welfare state programmes that Canadians and Europeans take for granted. An independent at heart, he joined the Democratic Party only recently to run for its presidential nomination. What Sanders has been unable to explain to his supporters, however, is how a country running a $440 billion deficit and burdened by a $19 trillion debt will implement even a portion of his promises.

As I write Trump is doing better than expected in the state primary elections that have occurred thus far. On the Democratic side Hillary Clinton and Sanders are both garnering support. It is too early to say what the race will look like in November, but some pundits are sticking their necks out and predicting a contest between Trump and Clinton. Though Clinton is more of a mainstream candidate than Trump, her reputation has been sullied by controversies over her use of a private email server and her conduct as Secretary of State during the Benghazi attack in 2012. Many long-time Democrats are unenthusiastic about her candidacy.

This puts many Americans in a quandary. As a U.S. citizen, I have the right to vote by absentee ballot based on my one time residence in DuPage County, Illinois. However, after 30 years in Canada, I am becoming increasingly uneasy with doing so, as I am far removed from especially state and local issues. Moreover, the prospect of having to choose between two seriously flawed candidates makes me even more disinclined to vote this time around.

While I am at present unsure what I will do in November, I am altogether certain that I will continue to pray that the leaders of both countries will govern according to the principles of public justice. I would urge you to do the same.

This post originally appeared as David Koyzis' Principalities & Powers column in Christian Courier's 14 March 2016 issue. A Portuguese translation can be found here: Confissões de um cidadão de dupla nacionalidade.

23 March 2016

Cristo, Cultura e Carson: uma resenha

Efforts to translate my writings into Portuguese continue apace with the appearance of this review of Donald A. Carson's book, Christ and Culture Revisited: Cristo, Cultura e Carson.The original English-language version appeared in Comment in 2009: Christ, Culture and Carson. Carson's book is, of course, a re-evaluation of H. Richard Niebuhr's classic 1951 book, Christ and Culture.

22 March 2016

On civil disobedience

Is it ever right for Christians to disobey their governments?  Christianity Today commissioned me to write this cover story for its April 2016 issue to assist the larger community of believers in answering this question: Why All Christians Should Consider Civil Disobedience. An excerpt:

We need not support theocracy to recognize that the Bible calls on earthly rulers to do justice within the context of their offices (Ps. 82, Isa. 10:1–2). Christians as far apart politically as Jim Wallis and James Dobson have recognized this. To remain faithful to our calling, we cannot keep our light hidden under a bushel (Matt. 5:15). When rulers ignore or flagrantly transgress their biblical mandate, believers may need to take dramatic steps to awaken consciences and agitate for change.
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09 March 2016

(Re)Discovering the Evangelical Mind

Six years ago I published this article in Comment: (Re)Discovering the Evangelical Mind. Now it has been translated into Portuguese and published here: (RE)Descobrindo a mente evangélica.

08 March 2016

The end of democracy? Social media's usurpation of politics

Two decades ago the journal First Things published a controversial symposium under the general title, “The End of Democracy? The Judicial Usurpation of Politics.” Debate over the role of the courts in public life has only intensified since the symposium's appearance. Now, however, it may be that another, more subtle threat is coming from outside the formal institutions of government. This threat has the potential to alter negatively the culture that until recently has supported these institutions. Since following the crowd and joining Facebook nine years ago, I am increasingly convinced that social media sites are having a similar detrimental effect on democratic institutions.

Because I am a professional political scientist, I take more interest than is probably good for me in what people post on politics. In an ideal world such a site could provide a forum for those willing to debate the great issues of the day and possibly even the philosophies undergirding efforts to address them. But, of course, this is not what happens. Far from it. Facebookers of all persuasions post “memes,” typically consisting of a photograph of a prominent political figure with a humorous or outrageous quotation emblazoned across the top or bottom. It is usually intended to mock one's political opponents by highlighting an obvious negative. Perhaps an overheard misstatement uttered in an unguarded moment or something taken out of context that makes its source look foolish, bigoted or even criminal.

These memes do little to advance dialogue and, in fact, have the effect of stopping conversation and hardening an increasingly polarized electorate in previously-held opinions. They irritate and outrage. They encourage ad hominem attacks. The number of friendships that have ended over social media is difficult to determine, but an educated guess is that it is not a small number.

Might it be harming the political system itself? Americans typically think of a constitution as a document drawn up by a committee and intended to function as the “supreme law of the land,” in the words of the United States Constitution's Supremacy Clause. Their assumption is that the constitution's unprecedented success is due to the extraordinary cleverness of the founders who created it. Having drafted a balanced system distributing political power among three branches and two levels of government, they established an enduring form of government for ages to come. A half truth at best, the reality is more complicated. Paper constitutions by themselves cannot create real constitutions.

What is a real constitution? Less prescriptive than empirical, it encompasses the sum total of political traditions and institutions as they function in the real world. “It embraces all those practices, memories, and principles that actually structure the body politic,” as Edward A. Goerner puts it. In this respect, the US constitution is less a document than a highly successful political system rooted in traditions of representative government long antedating 1787. Without these pre-existing traditions, no constitutional document, however well fashioned, would have worked over the long term. The 1993 Constitution of the Russian Federation reads very well indeed, borrowing heavily from American and French models, establishing a hybrid presidential-parliamentary system. Sad to say, the mere existence of this document has done little to obstruct the development of what can only be called an increasingly authoritarian Putinocracy.

The real constitution of the United States is dependent on many generations of political experience extending as far back as Magna Carta, whose 800th anniversary we celebrated last year. The establishment of the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1619 brought the first parliamentary assembly to the Americas and laid a foundation for self-government on a wider scale by the end of the following century. If politics is downstream from culture, then the living complex of intangible attitudes and worldviews is more important than concrete political institutions and policy alternatives.

What does this have to do with social media? After nearly a decade of observing political behavior on such sites, it appears to me that the traditions of civility extolled by Walter Lippmann six decades ago have fallen on hard times. Social media tend to magnify the expansive self, encouraging participants to stake out a virtual identity within the ethereal territory of the world wide web: “This is who I am, like it or not!” “My political beliefs are part of my identity; to call them into question is to call my very identity into question.” Rather than discussing the issues in an intelligent way that might make us open to opposing viewpoints, we are now backing each other into corners, holding up to ridicule those stupid enough to find merit in, well, you fill in the blank.

The danger to our political institutions comes, not just from the refusal to extend charity to those with whom we disagree, but from a failure to recognize that democracy itself depends on competition and healthy differences of opinion. Social media encourage Democrats to portray Republicans as so backwards and unenlightened that the country would be better off without them. Similarly, Republicans post memes that make Democrats look like dangerous radicals barely worth tolerating. I have yet to see a meme in which, say, a professed Democrat encourages Republicans to eschew certain unpalatable presidential candidates for the sake of the Republican Party itself and for the overall health of America's democracy. Where are the Republicans who believe that effective representative government requires a robust Democratic Party, even if they disagree with its principles?

Needless to say, such sentiments would not fit easily into a “meme.” Concern for the overall health of political institutions has never been the stuff of placards and demonstrations. It does not lend itself well to sarcasm or mockery. In particular, it does nothing to enhance one's public persona for the supposed benefit of the rest of the world. One need not be especially high-minded to recognize that political institutions matter. But so do the supportive traditions in which they are anchored. We take for granted that the institutions will always be there for us. But if we continue to allow and perhaps even contribute to the erosion of these traditions that enable them to function, we should not be surprised if our political life becomes more polarized at their expense.

David Koyzis is author of Political Visions and Illusions and We Answer to Another: Authority, Office, and the Image of God. He teaches politics at Redeemer University in Canada. This post is cross listed at First Thoughts.

24 February 2016

Electus interview

I was recently interviewed by Thiago Oliveira and Thomas Magnum de Almeida for the Electus blog in Brazil. The interview was published today in Portuguese. Here is the English version below:

ELECTUS: It seems that we have reached an “age of extremes.” Around the world conservatives and progressive are more and more tending to radicalism in their speeches. Social networks seem to feed this extremism. What do you think about this? Do you believe this age has arrived?

KOYZIS: It is true that a lot of political rhetoric sounds extreme, as exemplified in the current presidential election campaign taking place in the United States. And, yes, social media such as facebook encourage this sort of thing. On the other hand, if we take the longer view, the 1920s and '30s were considerably worse, with communism, fascism and national socialism (Nazism) in power over huge numbers of people in the Eurasian continent. Thank God, we have no Stalins, Hitlers or Mussolinis in the 21st century. Today the most powerful ideological visions are much more subtle, making their presence felt through the media, education and even the churches, which use their influence to persuade people to accept their accounts of reality, including political life.

ELECTUS: Brazil is still in its infancy with respect to conservative and liberal ideas, because for a long time, especially after the end of the military dictatorship, Marxist thinking has ruled our political life. By and large, and also among protestant Christians, Brazilians are getting to know such conservative authors as Roger Scruton, Russell Kirk and Edmund Burke. What is your assessment of a possible rapprochement between Christian political thought and conservatism—especially the British variety?

KOYZIS: There are definitely possibilities for some form of rapprochement, but Christians would do well to exercise caution. Many conservatives, such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Russell Kirk and Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, were indeed serious Christians who, as far as we can tell, genuinely believed in the truth of the faith. But other conservatives embrace Christianity, not necessarily because it is true, but because it has a certain utilitarian value in upholding public morals. Conservatism at its best offers wise counsel in the face of transformational ideologies that would upend society on the pretext of starting over along more ostensibly rational lines. Writing in 1790, Burke foresaw with startling clarity the future of the French Revolution and its likely outcome at the hands of a tyrannical ruler. He understood that, despite superficial appearances that the French were finally replacing absolute monarchy with constitutional government, there was a destructive spirit at large that would bring the revolution to a bad end. He was right, of course, and this is why we still read Burke’s writings today.

On the other hand, flesh and blood conservatives are all over the map when it comes to specific political principles. Konstantin Pobedonostsev (1827-1907), conservative tutor to the last two Russian tsars, defended monarchical absolutism, while North American conservatives could scarcely be expected to agree. Canadian conservatives defend constitutional monarchy and parliamentary government, while American conservatives defend the separation of powers instituted by their founders in the 1780s. Where they are likely to agree is in affirming that government cannot do everything. But that is insufficient to set forth a vision of just governance in a complex society. So, no, Christians cannot be content to be conservatives even as we might view them as allies on specific issues.

ELECTUS: Political ideas are the fruit of worldviews. Within our academic institutions students are being indoctrinated into political ideologies which are the fruit of a particular worldview. What advice would you give to Christian young people who have studied at the universities, especially the humanities, and have been bombarded by idolatrous ideologies?

KOYZIS: First of all, I would tell them to keep their eyes on Jesus Christ and the centrality of the cross and resurrection. It is easy to get sidetracked in the midst of the diverse responsibilities of a busy life. This does not mean we should forsake such responsibilities and devote ourselves exclusively to a life of prayer. It does mean that we live out our diverse callings (for example, as husbands, wives, citizens, employees, students, teachers and so forth) recognizing that our ultimate loyalty is to the God who has created, redeemed and empowered us to live according to his word.

What implications does this have for political ideologies? The followers of such ideological visions are in effect wearing blinders that enable them to see only a very few things and only from a certain vantage point. Liberals can see only individual freedom and tend to downplay the significance of other legitimate factors. Conservatives properly see the important place of tradition but have difficulty formulating criteria by which to assess the value of these traditions. Nationalists understand the importance of solidarity within particular groups of people sharing common characteristics and goals, but they tend to make an idol of the nation.

Students exposed to these ideologies need to be aware that the worldviews in which they are rooted give them a distorted picture of the real world, which is far more complex than they are led to believe. A Marxist would have them believing that simply removing economic barriers will unlock the innate virtues in human beings and lead to a flourishing classless society, ignoring, not only the reality of sin which cannot be eradicated short of the second coming of Christ, but the multiple motivating factors that condition life in a real society. Economics isn’t everything.

By contrast, a biblical worldview has the decided advantage of recognizing that our world belongs to God and finds its ultimate meaning in him. If we are Christians, we do not have to look for a principle of unity within creation, where it can never be found. Rather, we recognize the genuine diversity of God’s creation whose unity comes from him alone.

ELECTUS: The Catholic Theology of Liberation (TL) is known to combine Christianity with Marxist ideas. But there is also an evangelical version that resembles this approach. It normally uses the term integral mission, which was coined in Lausanne, but does not condemn Marxism, as did the Pattaya Report (1980). Such authors as Francis Schaeffer have labelled Marxism a Christian heresy because of its soteriological orientation. Do you share this view? And what are the dangers of synthesizing theology with political ideology?

KOYZIS: Yes, definitely. Marxism is indeed a Christian heresy, but it is not alone in this. All of the ideological visions that have influenced the modern world are in effect Christian heresies. Each posits a false redemptive narrative that begins with a central problem capable of being resolved only by an earthly redeemer of some sort. For Marxists, the proletariat (that is, the industrial working class) is the messiah who ushers in the classless society, a secularized form of the kingdom of God. For nationalists, redemption comes with the liberation of the nation from foreign rule. For liberals the maximization of individual freedom brings in the kingdom. Indeed at the present time it may be argued that the established religion in much of the world today is the religion of human rights, such rights being ascribed to the expansive self and its desires, often at the expense of other legitimate considerations, including the good of the larger communities of which we are part.

As for the dangers of “synthesizing theology with political ideology,” I would express it differently. The danger is of having divided loyalties. “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). If we claim to serve God, we must serve him wholly and not keep anything back. We must allow him to transform our desires and aspirations so that they conform to his will for our lives. If we settle for anything less, we in effect settle for another gospel.

ELECTUS: Reformed theology contemplates every field of human activity, as we see taught in the principle of sphere sovereignty (Abraham Kuyper). How important is a good theological foundation for articulating and living out a solid Christian worldview? Which authors would you recommend for readers wishing to deepen their understanding of politics?

KOYZIS: We must begin with the recognition, in the words of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), that we are not our own but belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to our faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. Our world belongs to God and not to us. We cannot do whatever we wish with God’s world, and that has profound implications for the way we do politics. If we fail to recognize this reality, we are likely to fall prey to any number of illusory promises that no government anywhere is in a position to fulfil.

But it’s not merely a matter of correct theology, which could be taken to imply that we are saved by correct theorizing. As Christians we are shaped by the liturgical practices of the church, to which we are called as members of the body of Christ. We must read the scriptures and, as Lesslie Newbigin puts it, find our own place within the biblical redemptive narrative. We need to follow our ancient forebears in the faith and pray through the Psalter on a regular basis. (Reading Psalm 88 every month should be sufficient to immunize people against the enticements of a false prosperity gospel!) The gospel must live in our hearts and not only in our heads.

Which authors would I recommend? More of Abraham Kuyper’s writings are being translated from Dutch into English every year, and I hope they will one day be translated into Portuguese as well. I am gratified by the tremendous reception that my Visões e Ilusões Politicas has received in Brazil. For those who know English, I would recommend anything written by James W. Skillen, Paul Marshall, Jonathan Chaplin, and the online publications of the Center for Public Justice and Cardus here in Canada. And, of course, I would be happy to offer my own writings to anyone interested.


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