Book of the Month/April 2013

Politics Reformed

Sorry about the price, but I am picking this book as my book of the month anyhow. Get your mom to buy it for you. Ask your librarian to stock it. Save up for it.

Update on the price: The University of Missouri Press is having a sale through April, which means you can get it for 40% off there.

If you are engaged in America’s current culture wars and you want to understand more of what is going on around you than you usually do, this book is the butterfly’s boots. I say this in the highest degree positive that no other reviewer of this book will ever attach such an encomium to it. If you take a look at the subtitle, you might get an idea why.

The subtitle is “The Anglo-American Legacy of Covenant Theology.” Politics Reformed is not about how to form a super PAC, or how to run a phone bank, or how to avoid going to jail when you took money from the wrong donor. It is a political book, but it is a political book that illustrates just how shallow much of our current political work is.

Speaking of the culture wars, I saw a sentiment the other day on the web that had a superficial attractiveness — and it has that attractiveness precisely because the political history of covenant theology is not well known. That sentiment was that the kingdom of God cannot be ushered in through “a culture war” because the kingdom necessarily promotes serving over winning. The sentiment is to be praised because it does place serving over winning, and hence its attractiveness to every right-thinking Christian. When the heat of battle makes us think that “the war” must be won at all costs, then we drift (or plunge) into the mentality that the ends justify the means.

But the problem with the sentiment (and it is a big one) is that Jesus never told us to serve instead of winning. He taught us how to win through service. He taught us how to win wars through service. He taught us how to start culture wars through service, and how to finish them the same way. And part of that service is doing the hard intellectual work that is necessary. Hence this book.

If you have ever undertaken a big project with a pro, the chances are good that the pro seemed to waste a lot of time early on in his preparation. Whether it is building a house, or painting one, or starting a business, the impatient one wants to just get after it. The pro belongs (apparently) to the “measure twice, cut once” school of thought. It goes slowly at first, but then once you are under way, you more than make up for lost time.

This book provides a detailed and thoughtful history of covenantal thinking in Reformed theology, and shows how utterly relevant that theology is to the hurly burly world of politics. It also shows exactly why our political life, left and right, so easily reduces to talking points, and from there to pushing and shoving.

“Transcendent politics can sometimes be a very dangerous politics, but is the only kind of politics for human beings” (p. xii).

This is likely to send up a hue and cry about the perils of an incipient theocracy, but remember that all our prejudices against theocracy do not keep us from winding up with one, but merely ensure that whatever theocracy we settle on will be ruled over by a theos who is ashamed to show his face or admit his name, and will be subsequently managed by economic illiterati, and then refereed by black-robed chin-strokers, with fully half of them having their robes over their heads. Nothing has been the same since the vestal virgins unionized and went on strike, and their new uniforms are terrible.

Let us take one example of a point that Moots makes, tailor-made for one aspect of our present crisis. Same-sex marriage is a laughable idea that nobody is laughing at, and this should make thoughtful persons wonder why.

“The idea of a binding moral covenant on all persons, with salutary relevance even for the spiritually unregenerate, gave the covenant of works tremendous impetus for political theology” (p. 80).

The short form is that we cannot deal with something like this full court press in favor of same sex marriage unless we have a theological confidence that we have right to provide the answer. The issue is not whether the same-sex marriage advocates will reject what we say, whatever we say — of course they will. The problem we have is that many Christians believe that God will reject their arguments against same-sex marriage. It is a crisis of confidence.

Now covenant theology deals with two covenants — the covenant of grace, of course, but also the covenant of creation (or works) made with Adam. The fact that Adam broke the covenant of creation did not nullify that covenant, and what this covenant did was provide the godly with a theological framework for understanding why the standards of the biblical God could be applied to the political lives of those who denied the authority of the biblical God. This theological rationale is something that many modern evangelicals simply don’t have, and which a committed cadre of ostensibly Reformed men hotly deny.

But our Reformed forefathers did have that confidence. This is a book that shows us where that confidence came from, and why they had it.

One other benefit this book provides is that it illustrates some of the wide differences that existed on political matters among the Reformed. Because of our superficial understanding of our own history, we think that anybody published by Banner of Truth must have had the same political outlook, which was not at all the case. This book outlines what some of those differences were, and it is not hard at all to trace what connection those differences might have for us today.

If you like history, politics, and theology, this book is one you will be able to savor. If you think history, politics, theology today largely consists of one lame thing after another, this book will help you understand why. Like I said at the beginning, this is a book worth making an effort to get and read.

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