N.T. Wright Rides a Pale Horse

Peter Enns asks N.T. Wright a question here, and I would like to kibbitz about the answer for a little bit. After I weary of that, I shall lay myself down to rest a while, and then rise up again for some fresh kibbitzing in the morning.

In his answer, Wright says that in America the conservative/liberal spectrum in politics generally matches up with the conservative/liberal spectrum in theology, and he points out, quite accurately, that it is not this way in other countries,  but rather far otherwise. From the way he framed the answer, it appeared to me that he was talking in this instance about economics, so I shall take it that way in what follows. He makes the point that those who are conservative theologically across the pond are often passionately in the forefront of causes that we would here call left wing. I think this is true as well. I also think it is good that we are saved by grace, and not by works. If it were by works, our economic incompetence would leave a bunch of us hosed.

What I mean is this — many who claim to love Jesus with their theology hate the poor with their economics, and I think we should stop being okay with that. I frankly think we should knock it off — the gospel is not some airy fairy thing that fails to apply to how people have to live out their actual lives. When Jesus taught us to feed the poor, instead of turning their place of habitation into a desolation, this necessarily excludes every form of Keynesianism.

Now I also admit that the previous paragraph has a case of the cutes, but I also want to maintain — in deadly earnest — that leftism of every stripe is a poisonous and lying cheat. This being the case, it does not matter how many vibrant Christians, conservative in their theology, sign on board. How many robust Christians would have to believe in it before water would start flowing uphill?

Think back a couple centuries, and I will speak to you in a parable. There was a doctor who traveled all over his region, and he was fully trained in the best science of his day. Unfortunately, this included the doctrine of the bodily humors, and so wherever he went, he would bleed many of his patients — some a half pint, some a pint, and some a quart. Because he was a diligent man, this regimen would be applied daily. He was compassionate, he was vibrant in his faith, he was a Trinitarian, and he believed in the resurrection of Jesus. He also rode a pale horse.

Think carefully about how Wright answered this question. He says that the conservative match-up between theology and politics is an American thing, and where he comes from we find a different match-up entirely.

Now there are different directions we can go with this. We might conclude, for example, that Jesus doesn’t care what our economic policies are, so long as we love Him. Or we might decide that those who are conservative in their economics need to quit it, and become progressive, because that’s what Jesus wants. Or we might go the other way, and say that the progressives ought to become conservatives, also in the name of Jesus. The correct answer, boys and girls, is the last one.

The first one is out because we are told to seek the good of the city where we dwell (Jer. 29:7). We are instructed to do good to all men (1 Thess. 5:15). Apathy and indifference are therefore out. The second option is excluded for the same reason, only more so. If we are told to do good to all men, not only does it exclude leaving them alone in their misery, it also excludes doing bad things to them, creating misery for them. Keynesianism destroys jobs, wages, families, neighborhoods, education, opportunity, and more. How is it seeking the good of the city to saddle them with sub-standard schools? How is it seeking the good of the city to start subsidizing waste, fraud and abuse? All such meddling is economic stupidity, and God did not tell His people to fan out over the globe, doing stupid things to people.

Incidentally, while we are here, in the midst of my robust defense of true free markets, which only the Spirit of God can bring about through the gospel by setting men free from their envy and their covetousness gimmes, I anticipate a misleading challenge from the hipster left, alleging that I am simply defending our current system of crony capitalism, and worse, doing it all in the name of Jesus. To this I will simply reply that I was fighting crony capitalism (what I call crapitalism) when they were still in short pants, and observe, in addition, that if the world’s poor could be fed with leftist ignorance of economics, the world would have been satiated generations ago. If leftist nostrums were Joseph’s fat cows, what a fine world this would be!

When Wright says that there are a bunch of Christians in other places who are leftist in their economic politics, he is not telling us anything new. But what is his implication? He doesn’t state it outright, but the clear hint is that American Christians have spent too much time on the farm, and they need to visit the big Keynesian city sometime, and gaze at all the bright lights. Our facile identification of conservative theology and conservative politics is way too American and provincial, he would say.

Now if this is right, then it is right, and we should do as he says. But if it is wrong . . . and it is wrong . . . we shouldn’t. But our response should not be to simply bonk heads over it. We need to have a debate. Does the gospel of Christ, in setting men free, bring in free markets or not? I would be happy to take the affirmative.

Jesus is not a Keynesian, any more than Coriakin was a tall Dufflepud.