4/28/2008

Is the political enterprise a result of the Fall?

I know this may not sit well with some of my dear anabaptist friends. The line of thinking that they carry into discussions about the Christian's role in politics is usually that
  • If it weren’t for sin there would be no need for government.
  • It is sin that creates the need for law and order.
  • Government itself is part of the Fallen order - the kingdoms of this world are set against the kingdom of God

However, as I see it, the human race was created as relational beings, made in the image of the Trinitarian God, who exists in mutual, loving fellowship among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As the imago Dei, the human race was made for mutual interdependence. Even without sin and the Fall, the developing human community would have needed cooperative efforts and leaders to organize our endeavors so that Shalom (universal flourishing) would always be the state of existence. Our first command was the Cultural Mandate of Genesis 1, and in order to exercise dominion and stewardship, in order to create culture and civilization, we would have needed governmental organization.

In other words, I think that the role of government is not simply the negative task of restraining evil (which is true because of the Fall), but also the positive task of working for the common good (which would have been the case with or without the Fall).

Revelation says that kings will “bring their splendor” and “the glory and honor of the nations” into the New Jerusalem, which should inform us that the political enterprise has intrinsic merit apart from the effects of sin (see Revelation 21:24-26)

21 comments:

Byron Harvey said...

Excerpted from my reply to you on the original post which I think got you thinking about this subject:

What “bad” would there be, sans the fall, such that government would be needed in order to seek the common good? Would the “good” have to be “worked for” if there were no such thing as sin? Perhaps you have an answer that’ll change my opinion, but from where I sit, I don’t see it. Government/laws would seem to be in place precisely because people are law-breakers in such a way as to be injurious to their fellow man; can you envision any law that exists for which this is not the case?

Seems to me that to answer that question, you have to smuggle in sin/the Fall in some way...

Matt said...

Does there have to be a bad to be a good?

Is there a distinction being made between "government" and "leadership?"

Being a sinner myself, living in a fallen world like a fish lives in water, I have a hard time imagining what life was like pre-Fall and (sadly) what life will be like in the New Creation.

However, God was Ruler back then and Christ will have the government on His shoulders in the future. His rule is necessary and good, regardless of our hamartiological condition, and I don't see why human leadership wouldn't also be a good thing (and Jesus' parable of the talents with servants taking charge of cities may favor this, as well).

If I understand what we're talking about (and I freely admit that I might be missing the point), I think I'm with Bob on this one.

Bob Robinson said...

Byron,
You ask a very good question: "Would the 'good' have to be 'worked for' if there were no such thing as sin?" My answer is simply, yes.

Work is a good thing; it is a pre-fall mandate. Subjugating the creation is a good thing; it is a pre-fall mandate. Creating culture and civilization is a good thing; it is a pre-fall mandate.

Without the Fall, would we still not need to work together for the needs of the populace? Would we NOT need to work together in order to have public utilities and street lamps and city parks and things like the Hoover Dam? We see God approving and blessing kings in Israel for leading their nation in positive activities. We see David leading the civilians to bring the Ark of the Covenant into the capital city of Jerusalem. We see Solomon organizing his nation in a massive project to build the temple. These are the kinds of things that are the "positive" side of government.

Certainly, since the Fall, the government has the negative aspect of its existence - to coerce people to not do evil by passing laws and punishing evil doers.

However, in Paul's explanation of the role of the State, he contrasts the "wrong" that a citizen might do with the "good" that God's established rulers are meant to do: "For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid..." (v. 4).

I understand that you are saying that this "good" that government has been ordained to do would not have been put in place if there had been no fall. My point is that order and civil cooperation and leadership are all good things, all creational ordinances, not a result of the Fall.

Byron Harvey said...

OK, I can see that, "good" not defined in a moral sense, but in the sense of "progress", if you will. Would it be reasonable to say that one function of government as we know it--one major function--would not be in place were it not for the Fall, while that other aspect would, then?

Bob Robinson said...

Yup.

Government's use of force and coercion in order to restrain evil is obviously a result of the Fall. But government itself is not a result of the Fall.

Matt said...

Progress would definitely be morally good, too.

Things can be morally good without the presence of evil. I think that Genesis 1 establishes that.

RonMcK said...

Bob
I think that you need to be more precise about the terms that you use and what you mean. “Cooperative efforts” and “leadership” can take place without government. Civilisation and culture can develop independently of government. Plenty of utilities are built without government. Shared services are often provided by “body corporates”. Many churches are built without the government organising the funding.

There are numerous ways that people can cooperate and work together. The differnce with government is that it coerces people into cooperating. Is that what you are advocating?

Do you mean that the government would have the power to decide what is the common good (knowledge of good and evil)? Would they be able to coerce people into actions for the common good? Would they be able to enforce compulsory taxation to achieve the common good?

I would have thought people created in the image of God would already know what was the common good and would voluntarily work towards it. I would expect that they would freely agree to contribute to the common good.
I am puzzled about what this pre-fall government would use its coercive powers for.

PS The reference from Revelation is not very persuasive. Kings may bring their glory into the New Jerusalem, but will they keep it. Surely all glory splendour will rest upon Jesus. If Jesus is king of the kingdom, how can other kings still have a role.

Bob Robinson said...

RonMcK-
You bring up some excellent points. Thanks for asking for these very important clarifications.

I absolutely agree that there are plenty of "body corporates" that provide services in society. There are a plurality of institutions in society, each with its own sphere of responsibility. No single institution (not even government) has the final authority on all things in society. As Paul Marshall writes, "Neither the Emperor, nor an apostle, nor a parent, nor a husband or wife can claim to be the only or the ultimate authority. Each and all have the responsibility, and therefore the authority that goes with it, to do a particular task within the world... We can delineate part of government’s role simply by realizing that there are other authorities such as churches, parents, or individuals, that have an authority, a right, not derived from government, and are therefore not disposable at government fiat. The authority of government ends where the authorities of others begin." (God and the Constitution: Christianity and American Politics, p. 60). There are indeed plenty of other ways people can cooperate and work together.

But your presumption that the only role of government is that of coercion is simply not accurate. More on that in my next comment.

Bob Robinson said...

RonMcK,
You say, "There are numerous ways that people can cooperate and work together. The difference with government is that it coerces people into cooperating. Is that what you are advocating? Do you mean that the government would have the power to decide what is the common good (knowledge of good and evil)? Would they be able to coerce people into actions for the common good? Would they be able to enforce compulsory taxation to achieve the common good?"

No, that is not what I am advocating. But the presumption you make is that the only difference between other societal institutions and government is that government's role is to forcefully coerce people to do what they (that is the governmental leaders) have determined to be the common good. But is that really the only way a government can function?

The Bible speaks clearly about servanthood, office, responsibility, and covenant. Jesus taught that the first is the last and that, therefore, authority is not meant for lording it over one another but is intended to be a form of servanthood (Matt 20). Throughout the NT the concept of true authority is equated with servanthood, even for governments (Romans 13:4 says that the governmental ruler is "God's servant to do you good"). Therefore, as I understand it, the godly norm for government is not to be coercive through absolute power but to be subordinate to the people that are being led, to even "minister" to the people (remember how governmental authorities are called "ministries" in many contexts!). So, governmental authority is meant to be a "service" to the people, for the common good.

The concept of "Covenant" is also central to the biblical understanding of government. Each party to a covenant agrees to the conditions of their covenantal relationship and promises to uphold them. This is not the same as a "contract;" a covenant is a relational promise, a commitment and a responsibility to carry out what it means to live in community with one another. Israel, as a community, took upon themselves the responsibility to uphold the covenant God had made with them. This covenant was not given to just the leaders but to the people as a whole. They, as a community, were given the responsibility to live it out - even in political structures. Remember that these political structures were delegated from God to the leaders and the people, since the political authority of the covenant was given to the entire people by God, not just to the leaders.

In other words, in both the OT and the NT, we find that political authority is delegated from God not just to leaders but to the people as a whole. Therefore, the leaders and the people are responsible to one another, and together they are responsible to God. The implications for modern politics should be clear: Even the worst political leaders usually try to pretend that they represent the population that they are leading (and maybe even a deity). I think that this reflects the fact that God has created a certain way of political order, that of representative government.

God's intention for representative government is for it not to be a top-down, coercive force but a bottom-up, representative covenant between the people. The government is meant to be of the people, by the people, and for the people - in order to provide services for the good of society.

In a world without sin, why would that not be the proper role of government?

Bob Robinson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob Robinson said...

RonMcK-

About Revelation 21-

You say that this reference is not very persuasive since "Kings may bring their glory into the New Jerusalem, but will they keep it," and "If Jesus is king of the kingdom, how can other kings still have a role?"

Well, they must indeed have a role in eternity since there they are bringing their splendor and the glory and honor of the nations to the New Jerusalem to prenent them to the King of kings! We can't just dismiss this is in the text.

I don't think I understand why you don't find this verse persuasive. The role of any authority is to be representative and subordinate to that of the King, Jesus Christ. Everything we do is done for the glory of God. So why would we be surprised when the "splendor and glory" of the nation's kings are marched into Jerusalem and presented to Jesus for his glory and his alone?

Bob Robinson said...

Matt,
Thanks for your always excellent input!!
The point of what we're talking about is this: If Christians are going to have a proper political philosophy, we had better start with a Christian Worldview. A Christian Worldview is shaped by the storyline, Creation - Fall - Redemption. So, our first task to a political philosophy is to determine what are the Creational ontologically good things that would have been even if there had not been a Fall. Some Christians simply presume that government is a result of the Fall, and thus government is a necessary evil in a fallen world (to be a coercive force to restrain evil). Some go even further to state that the Christian must separate from the political process since it is an ontologically evil enterprise.

I am arguing against that.

RonMcK said...

So Bob,
Are you saying that the pre-fall, servant government would function without any powers of coercion?

Bob Robinson said...

RonMcK-
Yep.
As I see it, there are two sides to the function of the State - (a) service to the populace (as determined BY the populace) for the common good (so that humans can carry out their cultural mandate), and (b) coercive power to restrain evil due to humanity's rebellion.

Obviously, (b) would not be needed pre-fall.

RonMcK said...

Thanks
Its government Bob, but not as we know it.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Bob,
I'm at least Anabaptist leaning in my theology, at least I think, and I have no problem with your thought here at all. I agree.

Government in itself I take as ordained by God and therefore good in its place. And though we don't see it worked out prefall, it makes all the sense in the world to me that it is important inherently, since humankind was and is called by God to govern and rule the earth under God as a stewardship. And this involves community effort and cooperation. Well, something like all of that.

I really don't understand how Anabaptists can protest your post but I'm beginning to imagine how. This does bring up an interesting slant on this.

I will say that apart from sin there had to be human development, I take it. And a cooperation and interdependent working of the sort that government would be necessary. Though certainly not at all like the governments of this world which bear the sword, and necessarily so (Romans 13) in this fallen world.

Bob Robinson said...

Ted,
Yes, not all anabaptists are opposed to this line of thought (Ron Sider comes to mind as one who lines up with the way I'm articulating things here).

Those who I have in mind are John Howard Yoder and those who follow him - they see human governments as the kingdoms of this world that are opposed to the kingdom of God. Gregory Boyd, in his latest book The Myth of a Christian Nation, takes this stand.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I did a simple post related to this and linked your post here.

I do need to read more of John Howard Yoder. I think he too has something important to say to us all in our consideration of how the kingdom of God in Jesus plays out in us at this time, even if we don't entirely agree with him. And who do we entirely agree with, anyhow? Not even with ourselves, after awhile!

Bob Robinson said...

Ted,
Oh, YES! YES! YES!
Do read Yoder's Politics of Jesus. It's absolutely brilliant. This book was very influential on me. I did not mean to make it sound as if Yoder was a poor model for political philosophy! While I don't agree with this one aspect of his philosophy, I can say that he has worked out a very biblical, coherent, and consistent political philosophy (which is saying a LOT more than the most prominent Christian political pundits in our country today!).

Mike said...

Agreed. People have to organize themselves. This is in effect with or without the fall.

The faith Voice said...

It clearly is....

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