The Minimal State and Other Bright Ideas

The last day or so Nancy and I have had the wonderful privilege of visiting the folks at Trinitas Christian School in Pensacola, and were wonderfully impressed with the work they are doing as a classical and Christian school. What a marvelous place. Last night I spoke for them on “The Paideia of God,” and in the question and answer session afterwards, a question was asked about my involvement in the political process. That is, do I vote and do I say the pledge of allegiance? The answer is an unqualified yes to the first question, and a qualified yes to the second. On the pledge, I won’t say “indivisible,” because that is an attribute of God alone, and I won’t say God without making it clear I am talking about the Father of Jesus Christ. With those caveats, I am a loyal American citizen and have no trouble telling our flag that I like it — even though it seems to need reassurances constantly.

I am having to guess on the background of the question, but it seems to me to proceed from a rising emphasis in conservative circles on an ecclesiocentric vision of the just society, one which seems to have (at least to me) an overrealized eschatology. In other words, if the civil order is going to wither away when the lion lies down with the lamb, then why are we helping it to not wither away by propping it up with our votes and yard signs? This is a conservative theological argument for anarchism, one that raises quite a few interesting questions. Here are some quick concerns.

First, we have no basis for assuming that the civil order is going to wither away. The kings of the earth are going to bring their honor and glory into the new Jerusalem — they do not throw themselves off the walls of the new Jerusalem. A future withering of the state owes more to abstract political theory than it owes to exegesis. Like everything else, the civil order will be sanctified and transformed, and will its proper station, and that nasty thyroid swelling will greatly diminish. The idolatrous state will wither, because all idols will fall, but God has established civil government, and He has not prophesied its destruction. When kings act coercively, their majesty is not increased by that (Ps. 94:20). When they act righteously, then their glory grows (1 Chron. 29:25). There is no reason to believe that God will curse the future obedience of kings.

Second, even assuming a future withering of the civil order (and I do assume a great reduction of idolatrous statism), a great deal of damage can be wrought by acting on this ideology too soon. As an economic libertarian and a minarchist — not an anarchist — I do look forward to the time when all the bureaucratic file cabinets will be pounded into plowshares. But when will this happen? 500 years from now? 10,000? Every generation tends to believe that it is living in the most momentous period of all, and when folks in the grip of an idea like this are agitating for something now, the results are consistently unpleasant. Do not awaken love before its time.

And last, we need to remember that Jesus Christ governs the flow of history, and that we do not. We are responsible to take the next step, and to be faithful in taking that next step. God uses what we do to accomplish His ends, but few Christians, if any, have any idea of the magnitude of the coming glory. The apostle Paul certainly knew what he did not know in this regard (1 Cor. 2:9). If we act like we have more knowledge of this than we actually do, we will, to use a theological phrase, make a hash of it. This is why we are to obey God’s law, which is quite different from obeying dictums deduced from abstract systems.

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