What is Politics?
Written by Ben C. Dunson |
Friday, May 19, 2023
Politics is just as self-evidently important from a biblical perspective as it is the case that the Bible is not a detailed manual for political action. If the Bible speaks to living together with others in society (which it does) it speaks to politics.
The Bible is not a political manual, which is obvious on a moment’s reflection. Many Christians—including influential pastors and scholars—emphasize this today. They are not wrong to do so in the abstract, although there are two fundamentally divergent paths that are usually taken once this platitude leaves one’s lips. Some say (or at least live as if it is true) that because the Bible is not a political handbook Christians should not get involved in politics; their lives should be about spiritual things.
Others, although agreeing that the Bible wasn’t written to give us a detailed blueprint for political action today, go in a completely different direction: Christians should indeed care about politics because the state is an important divine institution in the world. Recognizing that the Bible isn’t written to provide detailed instructions for things like precise tax rates, exact immigration quotas, percentage of GDP to be spent on infrastructure, military strategy, and so on, they turn instead to arguments from natural law, the voice of conscience, and even simple observations about governance derived through trial and error over many centuries.
I am firmly in this latter group. And yet I still recognize that the Bible has much to say about the state, which God created for the good of humanity. Scripture does this in a variety of ways. In the next article I will work through what I take to be the building blocks of a Christian approach to politics. I’ll do so by looking at God’s purposes for the world as seen in the opening chapters of Genesis, where we encounter man’s divine mandate to rule over the world God made.
But for now we must begin with a definition of politics. I take mine from the great seventeenth century Protestant political theorist Johannes Althusius (Politica 1.1-3):
Politics is the art of associating men for the purpose of establishing, cultivating, and conserving social life among them. Whence it is called ‘symbiotics.’ The subject matter of politics is therefore association, in which the symbiotes (= “people who live together”), pledge themselves each to the other, by explicit or tacit agreement, to mutual communication of whatever is useful and necessary for the harmonious exercise of social life. The end of political ‘symbiotic’ man is holy, just, comfortable, and happy symbiosis (= “living together”), a life lacking nothing either necessary or useful.