In the Introduction to Republocrat, Carl Trueman gives us the thesis of his book straight up front — “that conservative Christianity does not require conservative politics or conservative cultural agendas” (p. xix). When Trueman moved from the UK to the United States, he records that he “suddenly found” himself “to be a man of the left” (p. xxiv). Nevertheless, he remains stoutly opposed to “abortion and gay marriage” (p. xix), and yet he is in favor of “gun control and nationalized health care” (p. xxv). So there you go.
In order to think straight about such things, it is important to say at the outset that Trueman is quite right to insist that conservative Christians ought not to be in thrall to whatever Fox News dubs to be conservative. Everything hinges on what it is you are conserving. Does conservative Christianity conserve theological truths only? Of course not — there are cultural ramifications in what we believe, as Trueman himself notes on the pro-life issue and the gay marriage issue. But by this I certainly do not want to say that conservative theology requires me to sign up for the Fox News brand of conservatism, the one that wants to protect the right of top-heavy starlets to fall out of their dresses, a regular event that to Fox appears constantly newsworthy. They have a theology that comes out of their halter tops.
But since real theology comes out our fingertips, and whatever it is that is coming out our fingertips reveals our theology, conservative theology does require some form of conservative politics, and does require some form of a conservative cultural agenda. At the same time, because a conservative theology of Scripture will eventually result in a postmillennial eschatology (said the postmillennialist), this progressive aspect of theology will result in some form of progressive politics, and some form of a progressive cultural agenda. But what we conserve, and what we work to institute as progress, must all be governed by Scripture. We don’t get to pick and choose from the smorgasbord staffed by from the lefties and righties.
So here is the central thing that we need to conserve (what we have of it), and progress toward (what we have not yet realized). We need to recognize that politics is necessarily coercive, and because coercion is a big deal, a Christian social order should want to strictly limit coercion to remain within the bounds assigned by Scripture. Unless I have a word from God, I don’t want to make anybody do anything.
Because of this I am willing for tight abortion laws — I am willing to make people not kill other people. Because of this I am not willing to allow a nebulous “concern for . . . poverty” (p. xxvii) to require us to throw economic realities overboard in a way that impoverishes a bunch of people. The man who considers the poor is blessed (Ps. 41:1), and the word for considers there means a practical, applied wisdom, of the kind that has studied real economics, and not that impulsive sentimentalism that wrecks livelihoods in the name of Jesus. In conserving free markets, we are preserving yesterday’s progress, and are making more progress possible. But all of it, whether we are protecting or establishing, must be grounded in the lordship of Jesus Christ, and on His revealed Word.