At last week’s T4G conference, David Platt failed to make a convicting case for the church’s need to repent of racism because his definition of racism is deeply flawed, and his interpretation of empirical data begs the question.
The title question is a word for word quote from a post I came across in the Reformed Pub. I’ve been asked this about a million times.
My response to the second question is: Do YOU even? In this post I demonstrate why this text does not in fact defeat the Taxation is Theft mantra. Spoiler alert: it’s because of my exegesis of the text of Romans 13!
It seems to me that the Theonomist argument can be boiled down to the following Syllogism:
P1) God does not change.
P2) If the Law has been abrogated, then God has changed.
C) The Law has not been abrogated.
The Reformed Libertarian objection is with P2. This is not necessarily true. If the purpose for giving the law in the first place was so that it would be a typological and eschatological foreshadow of things to come with the intention all along that it would be abrogated when those things came to fulfillment, then it is not a matter of God changing for him to abrogate the law now that those things have come to be. Rather it is a symptom of God NOT changing that he would be faithful to fulfill that plan.
For example, when Israel committed the sin of the golden calf at Mount Sinai and God was going to wipe them out, Moses interceded for them. He reminded God of his promises, and God appears to change his mind. It almost looks like God is a nearly unhinged human person who Moses talks sense to until he calms down. It even uses a word that is very similar to “repent” for what God does here.
So did God change? Certainly his course of action did! Does this mean he is no longer immutable? No longer simple?
Of course not. It meant that his purpose all along was to evoke this intercessory ministry from Moses. He never really intended to destroy Israel because he knew and sovereignly ordained what would happen. One major reason for this was because it gives us an amazing picture of Jesus’ intercessory work for us.
The same idea or pattern holds here. The judicial/civil Mosaic Law for Israel was meant, in large part, to foreshadow the coming greater Kingdom of Christ. That Kingdom is now here in a different sense, and that sense clearly does not involve using the sword against outsiders (1 Corinthians 5).
So the theonomist argument is not proven by this syllogism. Rather it begs the question of whether God’s purpose was for the law to be a type/foreshadow or whether it was intended to be set in stone for all ages.
And the answer to that question will inform our interpretation of what Jesus means by what he says in Matthew 5:17-18.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”
What is meant here by these words “abolish”, “fulfill” and “accomplish”? What we understand the original purpose of the Law to be will inform the definition of those terms, won’t it? It will lead us to a certain view about whether and to what extent Christ’s life, death and resurrection fulfilled and accomplished some or all of it.
The Reformed Libertarian position, from considering the whole of Scripture and especially the whole of the New Testament, is that yes the Law is typological. It has indeed NOT been abolished, but has been, in large part, fulfilled and accomplished by Christ and the New Covenant which it was foreshadowing. There are nuances to this view, but the overall point is the same: The New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace, the Old Covenant (including Abraham’s) were all Covenants of Works with Grace coming retroactively from the New as a foreshadow. All the preceding Covenants were typological of the New and all must be interpreted in light of that typology, including elements like the Law of Moses.
No the Law has not been abolished. Certainly the moral principles of the Law (the standard of God’s holiness it sets forth for all people and especially his covenant people) is very much the same today as it was then, and the Law is inestimably valuable at teaching it to us, for it is God’s holy, infallible, inerrant, and sufficient revelation of it.
Yet it’s application to the New Covenant must take into account the ways in which Christ has fulfilled and accomplished the typology of the way it was applied in the Old Covenant. Therefore the practical application will of necessity look different today (1 Corinthians 5 gives us a hint of this).
And whatever else we believe about baptism or sabbath keeping or the second commandment or whatever…. One thing is crystal clear to us Reformed Libertarians: the standards of the Law are no longer to be enforced in exhaustive detail with the sword by the civil magistrate. For God’s covenant community no longer takes the form of a civil nation. Instead, the purpose of the sword bearing magistrate is to defend the life, person and property of those who “do good” (Romans 13).
This is a cross post from Facebook, but I thought I would preserve it. Somebody asked me for the Theological Reasoning Behind Reformed Libertarianism. So here it is:
1) Man was made in the image of God, the primary characteristic of this being the dominion mandate, meaning that God has given men a stewardship responsibility over their lives and the portion of creation under their control. We are to exercise this dominion in accordance with God’s law and for his glory.(Gen 1, Matt 25)
2) Since other men are conspicuously absent from the rather exhaustive list of things man is to have dominion over, and seeing as how men are to consider the lives (Gen 6:9, Ex 20:13) and property (Ex 20:15,17) of other men to be off-limits, and since God holds each person individually accountable (Matt 25, Ezek 18, 2 Cor 5), it can therefore be concluded that the dominion mandate falls on each person individually.
Therefore each person has the individual responsibility of self-stewardship (which the secularists call self-ownership). This grants each person the duty and human right to exercise the authority incumbent in the dominion mandate over his own life, person and property. To restrict a man’s dominion over such is to offend against the image of God in him, which is really to offend against God. (psst: this is the Non-aggression Principle)
Because sinful men love to offend against God and therefore have no respect for their neighbors, God communicated these standards, first in seed form as part of the Noahic Covenant (Gen 9:6) and later in fuller detail in Exodus 20-24 (though they were clearly in force by the first generation after the fall (Gen 4) though we have no inspired record of them being communicated).
In doing so, God set forth a principle of justice for this fallen world that those who do wrong to their neighbor should be harmed in equal measure to the harm they caused (Ex 21:23-25).
Thus property rights are to be seen as the foundational principle on which the apparatus of justice in a civil society is to be constructed, and by which justice in a civil society is to be measured and evaluated.
As part of that apparatus, God has instituted the role of magistrate in society. The magistrate is anyone who serves other men by bearing the sword against those who wrong their neighbor. (Romans 13:3-4). In doing so, he is not to be “a terror to good conduct”, meaning he is only to bear the sword against those who do evil, as God has defined his role.
Thus, the very maximum any government has theological authorization to do is to serve citizens by aiding them in defending their life, liberty and property and bringing vengeance upon those who agress against them.
Any government that uses its power to break God’s law is a corrupt and invalid government in God’s eyes. Any government that abuses its position to take away the rights of those who’s rights it is tasked with protecting, is no true government at all, but a criminal organization.
We Christians are still called to be ordered under such a government (even Nero), but that does not make such government valid. And in as much as we have influence in the government, as officials or as voters, we ought to use our influence to direct government to follow God’s standard.
The only governments God considers morally valid are the ones who use their sword against wrong doers and only against wrong doers.
Ultimately the only government that will prefectly meet that qualification is King Jesus.
Justice under the sun is always going to be imperfect. However that should not stop us from upholding the perfect standard as the target we are aiming for in our political action.
Now, as stated here, this is a very broad tent under which many forms of government might fit including certain forms of theonomy and a constitutionally limited republic (provided that the constitution is actually founded on these principals and the republic is actually limited by such constitution.)
I believe further logical and exegetical analysis would swing the balance around to favor anarcho-capitalism much more strongly, but I’ll save that for a future post.
For now, it is not so much my aim to convince the world to be Anarcho-Capitalists, though I would love it if that were so. For the time being, it would be sufficient if everyone could simply agree to the founding theological framework I have described here as the grounding for all analysis of government. I think MOST Christians, certainly Reformed ones, DO agree to this, though many have not fully thought through the logical implications of it, and thus are not Anarcho-Capitalists. I think the primary reason for that is a lack of knowledge and clarity about what Anarcho-Capitalism actually IS and what it is not. See Al Mohler for an example of such confusion.
This video is rather old, but it came across my news feed again today, and I figured it warranted comment.
With the hard charge of Bernie Sanders in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, it would seem that this idea of inequality is becoming increasingly more popular.
There’s a major problem with it, though, and that’s that they are looking only at one side of the financial ledger to measure wealth solely by dollar income.
This isn’t all that surprising given that the cultural understanding of economy centers entirely around the government and their attempts to manipulate things through the income tax.
Never mind that the effect of the income tax pales in comparison to the damage done by the Federal Reserve. That really doesn’t matter to most people who remain blissfully unaware of all but what the news media talks about.
So to most people the economy is all about how much is the rich people’s money the government takes to help the poor. Republicans, of course, counter the Democrats’ desire to take it all (Democrats are no true socialists by the way, but that’s off topic), by saying that doing so would stifle the economy.
Why is this bad? To them is because the money won’t trickle down in the form of jobs. So really both sides ultimately measure the health of the economy by how much of the dollar wealth finds its way into the pockets of poor people.
(Kind ironic then, isn’t it, that this is the same government that encourages those poor people to spend their little hearts out by disincentivizing savings while at the same time sapping the purchasing power of what dollars they do have to spend…. But that’s another digression).
So what’s the proper economic analysis here? Is there a problem with this distribution? It certainly seems unfair, doesn’t it? But is it?
No. It’s not. Why not? Because of that whole idea of trickle down.
Of course any time a fiscal conservative mentions the trickle down, the progressives are always quick to point out that the trickle down doesn’t work.
Is that true? No way! The fact is that the trickle down has already worked and this distribution is the proof.
Now that sounds backwards, right? If the trickle down worked, this graph would even out, wouldn’t it?
Well it certainly seems like it would, and that’s what the progressives say world happen. But that’s only because they are incorrectly measuring wealth in terms of income or dollars in a bank account instead of standard of living.
If you look at standard of living and then compare those poorest Americans with people in, say, Rwanda, it’ll put things into proper perspective pretty quickly.
All of this of course begs the question of why any one person has any greater claim than another to any given unit of wealth.
The videographer’s bias (and the one growing increasingly common) is that at a certain point someone has enough and someone else has a greater claim to his excess, because… fairness.
The root of this idea has to do with need. Why does the top 1% NEED all that cash? Certainly if we distributed a chunk of that to the bottom 10% that would significantly increase their standard of living, right?
Or would it?
This whole thing seems to forget what money and income really are. Money is the measure of how much you have enriched the lives of to those around you.
It’s easy to understand when we break it down. If I give you a gallon of milk, and you give me $3, that $3 I have been enriched is roughly equivalent to the amount I have enriched you. My wealth has improved by $3. Yours has improved by $3 worth of milk.
Then suppose I buy a cow and sell all the milk I get from it to not just you but all my other neighbors. Every gallon I sell enriches someone else by $3 worth of milk and enriches me by $3 worth of currency.
Now after a while that currency will start to pile up. Except for the amount I have to spend feeding and keeping my cow healthy, and except for the amount I have to spend on consumable goods and services for my own well-being, that cash is all going to accumulate into a nice pile of dough.
And since that wealth comes from a multitude of sources, if you compare me to any one of my customers, it will appear as though I have a great advantage over them. But that is merely because I serve more people than just that one. To be fair, you would have to compare me to the whole community, and you would have to count all the milk I’ve produced in the balance on their side.
These guys in the top 1% got there because in one way or another they have directly or indirectly enriched the lives of millions of people.
Suppose $1 of every Star Wars ticket found its way into JJ Abrams’ pocket. If a million people went to see the movie, that would be $1 million to Mr Abrams.
It wouldn’t be fair for my neighbors to gang up on me and demand I distribute my pile of cash among them. Why do I owe them anything? I gave them milk.
Similarly, it’s not fair for society to gang up on rich people and demand they redistribute their wealth. Why should they redistribute it?
They gave us Star Wars and iPhones and Facebook and well-stocked grocery stores and cars and loans when we needed to buy a house or pay for college and so on and so forth.
Don’t look at this graph and think only about how much cash is at the top without realizing that that cash got to the top because the guys at the top are responsible for the fact that the guys at the bottom live better than kings did 400 years ago.
The wealth has already trickled down – not in the form of cash, but in the form of standard of living.
Don’t believe me, just look around you! The poor in this country are not that bad off. Some people are truly suffering, but there are almost always circumstances surrounding that, and even the worst of of them are doing pretty well actually.
Again, compare them to people living in Rwanda or the Philippines or Myanmar.
With relatively few exceptions, the poor in the United States (and most of the so called “first world”) have food, clothing and even cell phones and tvs.
But more to the point, because if the efforts of guys at the top, even the poorest in this country have indoor plumbing, electricity, refrigeration, forced air central heating, air conditioning, some firm of automotive transportation, telephones, access to a computer with Internet access, and a thousand other things poor Americans take the granted every day that simply did not exist or at least were not available to the poorest of people even as recently as 100 years ago.
All of these comforts enjoyed by everyone in our society that came about because of the hard work of those at the top.
Sure there’s always going to be a certain handful of exceptions to every rule. But by and large, the pattern is that the guys at the top, though they have indeed amassed a vastly greater sum of cash than everyone else in this country, have done so by serving others.
The implication – or rather the outright statement of this video maker – that the rest of the people are suffering as a result of all this hoarding is patently false. In fact quite the opposite is the truth, because how did these guys amass all this wealth?
They did it by enriching the lives of millions of other people which has drastically improved the standard of living for those who seem to have less.
I apologize for my hiatus. I have been extremely busy on a project for work that has consumed about 75% or more of my time lately. I appreciate you, my faithful readers, sticking with me.
If you’re a fan of economics, you won’t be disappointed today. In response to the news of Martin Shkreli buying the patent to produce the AIDS medication, Daraprim and promptly jacking up the price, I was asked by a friend on Facebook to comment from a Libertarian perspective.
I immediately identified the problem as being the patent. The fact that the government allows this guy to operate a monopoly is what allows him to get away with this.
If there was no patent and the price rose this high naturally, then that would be an indication that there was a shortage of supply in the market. This would signal producers to create more supply. In this particular case, some other pharmaceutical company would create their own version of the drug and compete with this guy, thus eating his lunch if he tries to stubbornly keep his prices higher. Even then, the price might still stay naturally high if demand continues to outweigh supply until more and more companies produce more of the drug and the price eventually comes down.
Of course that cannot happen in this case, because the government has created artificial barriers to enter this market in the form of the patent which makes actually it illegal to produce more of the same thing and FDA screening which requires a lengthy and expensive red tape process to get your product approved by the government before it can be deployed to the market.
So the true bad actor here is the government. Shkreli himself may indeed be a bad actor, but he’s only able to succeed at acting badly because of the environment that the government created, much the same way that Al Capone was only able to succeed at his bad acting because of prohibition.
The funny thing is, when I posted this analysis, my friend objected. His objection?
Don’t get me wrong- intellectual property (and especially copyright) policy in the U.S. is obscene as is… But it also exists for a reason.
Without it… Joe spends years of his life and millions of dollars researching the production and effects of a chemical that solves a particular problem.
I then, nearly overnight, buy a single quantity of this chemical, analyze and replicate it. My costs being significantly lower, I sell it at a fraction of the price, forcing him out of business (in order to compete, he has to eat his development costs, and may never be able to turn a profit at all).
The overhead in creating something is ALWAYS higher than the overhead in copying it…
The irony here is that his objection to my analysis that the government causes this problem by outlawing the practice of poaching products (I’m not sure if that’s a real economic term or not, but I will use it for this article and define it to mean the act of reverse engineering a product for the purpose of bringing an alternate to the market as competition) – which clearly needs to happen in this case – is that without patents, products would be poached!
Despite several attempts to explain that this is a good thing by going over sound economic praxeological analysis of this issue including what prices actually are (in which I tried to dispel the notion that prices are determined by production cost and argue that patents shield innovators from risk causing them to make bad investments in things that may not actually be viable products) he remained firm in his faith that
Price may be set by the market, but if the price is lower than the cost, the product won’t ever get made in the first place.
The cost, in the case of drugs, is cost of development PLUS cost of manufacture. Cost of development is MASSIVE, but only has to be paid by whoever does it first.
With patents, the developer has a massive advantage, because he doesn’t have to worry about competition for a year or few.
Without them, that advantage moves from the developer to EVERYONE BUT the developer…
Without patents, the price will always be lower than the cost, thus, successful businessmen will NEVER innovate, because it’s NEVER worth it, in the cost-benefit analysis.
Thus, your free market stagnates.
Patents exist to provide an extra benefit that might temporarily outweigh that cost. Stripping them away doesn’t free up entrepreneurs to innovate at will… it takes away one of the few reasons to invest (unless they can afford to throw money away on a guaranteed loser, and are doing it for feel-good reasons).
So what do I say to this? Is he right? Would poor old Hypothetical Joe be at the mercy of the sharks in the market if he didn’t have a patent to protect him?
I have written much on this blog and have expounded on many topics and in many ways. My usual mode is to respond to objections to Libertarianism I come across online or in discussions with people. This can be good, but I think what is better is to look to the Scriptures. The Word of God is thrown around quite a lot and can be made to say whatever you want it to say. Like any evidence, it can be interpreted through a bias of presuppositions that lead to error. So I really dislike argumentation that says “Well the Bible says <insert systematic doctrine without proof text.>”.
I’m well aware that I do the same thing. We either do this as an attempt to shoehorn the Bible into the discussion as a lazy appeal to authority, or we are simply trying to be direct and avoid verbosity. Whatever our intentions, at some point these systematic doctrines must be put to the test of Biblical Exegesis. We must be noble Bereans who search the Scriptures to know what it does and does not say so that when we promote some teaching and say it’s from the Bible, we are accurately representing it.
This is my aim. I want to cut through the clutter and the chaff and get to the text. I want to throw out Systematic Theology for a bit and dig into some Biblical Exegesis. This way we can see what the Scriptures actually teach. This way we will know whether a given claim really is from Scripture.
For this reason, I embark on a trek through the Word. I plan to exegete a list of passages that have application to this topic of Civil Government. I’ve already sort of started this with Romans 13, and I think it would be helpful to go through other texts as well. I have a selection of passages that are relevant to the topic that I plan to deal with. If you have any suggestions, I would love to add them to my list.
I will try to keep these brief, and they will in no way be exhaustive. I do not aim to write full dissertations, or even full sermons on each. I do not want to get bogged down into the Greek and Hebrew any more than is necessary. I don’t believe it is all that necessary for the most part. I intend to use the grammatical-historical method to observe what the text says and to draw applications for the arena of Political Philosophy from it. By Political Philosophy, I mean the ethics of human interaction and how society is most justly to be ordered. Some of these may be direct. Others may be indirect.
So let’s dig in and start with Genesis 1:26-28
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image
In the image of God he created him;
Male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
You might be asking, “What does this have to do with politics?” Quite a lot actually. We see here taught a few key truths about the nature of man that are critical to our discussion. But let’s set aside the question for now. Let’s simply let the text speak plainly to us.
Here on Day 6 of creation, God steps back for a second, looks around at his good creation and says, “Let’s kick this up a notch.” So he creates man and the result is that the creation goes from “good” to “very good”. What’s so special about man? Well, there’s both an ontological and a teleological difference between man and the rest of creation. Ontology deals with the nature of things. Teleology deals with the purpose of things. God reveals both in his statement “Let us make man in our own image.”
But the question is, “what does it mean to be made in the image of God?” There are a lot of ways of trying to answer that question. Many people say “free will”, others say “reason”. But there’s a more foundational reality here that must be the bedrock of any answer we give: Man is God’s self-portrait within the tapestry of his creation. This sets him apart from the rest of creation. Ontologically, man is different from the rest of creation because he bears the likeness of God. Teleologically, man is different from the rest of creation because he has a specific purpose: to bear God’s image.
In what way does man bear God’s image? I find most attempts to answer this question overlook the obvious answer from the text. Man images God by having dominion over creation.
The dominion mandate is given twice in this text. The second time, it comes in the form of a command spoken directly to the man after his creation. But the first time, it is a purpose statement that God speaks to his Triune self while planning the creation of Man. In this purpose statement, he says that man will be made in God’s image and that he will have dominion over the rest of creation. These are not two separate realities. They are inextricably linked. The most basic and direct meaning of being made in God’s image is that we have dominion! This makes sense doesn’t it? God is revealed throughout Scripture as the Sovereign King of all the Universe. Indeed, he created the universe and all that is in it and rules over it all (Psalm 103:19).
So this text reveals man’s primary duty. It is stewardship. Man, in order to glorify God by accurately representing him to his creation, rules over creation on God’s behalf. Man’s dominion over creation does not replace God’s authority over it, but is and ought to be an act of worship and service to God.
The other interpretations of how man images God are valid, but I maintain that these are merely supportive of the primary goal. God rules his creation in wisdom, so man is given wisdom. God has a will, so man is given the power to choose.
Another key aspect is this idea of reproduction. This passage reveals that reproduction is part of this image bearing nature of man. Right in the middle of this discussion of image bearing and dominion, God reveals that he made man male and female. Then he tells man to “be fruitful and multiply.”
Much can be said about this in other respects, but its impact on the dominion mandate is that man would fill the earth in order to subdue it. The procreative act of childbearing is both an imaging of God’s creative power and a means to the end of having dominion over creation. This is a large earth, and no one man can subdue all of it, even in the pre-fall state. So he needs the help of other men so they can divide and conquer. Thus the purpose for procreation is bound up in man’s Ontological nature and Teleological responsibility to image God.
There are several implications of this dominion mandate.
First, the earth and all that is in it, while being God’s property as his creation (Psalm 24:1), is also available for man to treat as his property. Indeed it truly belongs to God, but man’s duty as God’s steward is to subdue and dominate it. More than being just permission for man to take property from the earth, this is a commandment.
Second, since the property is ultimately God’s and man’s dominion authority over this creation is a stewardship of the property for God, then our dominion must be exercised according to God’s wishes. We must rule creation the way God would rule creation and follow his laws if we are to image him appropriately. If we rule creation in a way that is contrary to God’s wishes, then we are in effect telling a lie about who God is. Much can be said about how God wants us to subdue creation, but that is beyond the scope of this analysis.
Third, mankind is conspicuously absent from the list of things dominated. God lists what we are to dominate: the earth itself, fish, birds, and land animals. Nowhere in this does it list dominating other men. This is because mankind is separate from the rest of creation. He is not a thing to be dominated. He dominates.
So what does this have to do with Political Philosophy?
Many have interpreted the dominion mandate as a pre-fall institution of government. I can only agree to this if we accept a certain definition of government. If government is broadly defined as the act of exercising dominion, then okay. But if we limit our definition of government to the exercise of dominion over other men, then I have to disagree. I don’t see that in this passage. It may be objected that we need government to organize a society so we can cooperate to subdue this large planet, but that’s not even remotely true.
First, it doesn’t say that here. Anyone who says this is eisegeting the presuppositions that government schooling has indoctrinated into them. Second, are we really to believe that, before the fall, men with no sin nature and a common language could not have voluntarily and peacefully organized to dominate an earth that was not plagued by the curse without dominating each other? Even the voluntary association of fallen men at Babel was so effective when they had a common language that God himself said, “nothing they purpose to do will be impossible for them.”
I will get into Babel in a later post. For now, I want to confine myself to this text, and I do not any institution of civil government in it. I define “civil government” as men having dominion over other men. We may try to move the goalposts and redefine government. As mentioned, I can agree to government if we define it as having dominion over creation. But I cannot agree to government that includes dominion over other men. In the interest of clarity, I will constrain my use of the term to the act of having dominion over men for now.
A civil government may or may not be a Biblical institution. We will see whether it is in future study. We can’t know that from this passage. But one thing is clear to me. If civil government is a Biblical institution, then it is a post-fall institution. It’s purpose is to deal with the realities of the fact that man is now sinful and the creation is now cursed. We will discuss what those realities are and the ways in which civil government deals with them later.
This is the final implication of Imagio-Dei: Since each man bears God’s image and since men are not, by created natural order, under the dominion of other men, then each man must be left free to carry out his own part in the dominion mandate as his own conscience dictates. We have a duty to respect God’s image in our neighbor. He has a right to life because he receives this from God. He has a right to liberty because he is God’s steward who answers only to God. Even if civil government is a Biblical institution, it ought not violate these rights. As we will see, its very purpose is to uphold these. When we leave men free like this, they will use this freedom to sin. That is unavoidable. He will answer to God for this. What are we to do about it? Is there no space for civil government to restrain such sin? We will see in future studies.