15 April 2016

Com que autoridade? By what authority?

Another of my articles has appeared in Portuguese on the túporem website: Com que autoridade? This is a translation of By What Authority? The Limits of Niebuhr's Transformational Christianity.

14 April 2016

England’s greatest export

Anglophiles. We all know them. They like everything English, from marmalade and Earl Grey tea to shepherd’s pie, blood pudding and spotted dick. (Google it! Trust me; it’s not what it sounds like.) They avidly watched the concluding episode of Downton Abbey last month and may even affect certain British pronunciations in their speech. They like the BBC and probably worship – if they go in for that sort of thing – at a high Anglican church.

Some three centuries ago a certain French aristocrat surnamed Montesquieu (1689-1755) was a different sort of Anglophile. A lawyer and man of letters, he spent two years in England and was favourably impressed by the experience. He had come to admire in particular England’s political institutions for their durability and reputation for protecting liberty. Through many centuries of constitutional development, the subjects of the English king enjoyed rights that the French could only dream of. Beginning with Magna Carta (1215) and extending up through the Petition of Right (1628) and Bill of Rights (1689), the powers of the king had gradually been limited and parliamentary government came into the ascendancy.

This was in stark contrast to his own country, whose political life had been relentlessly centralized in the person of the monarch. “L’état c’est moi!” King Louis XIV famously uttered. “I am the state!” From Montesquieu’s side of La Manche (the English Channel), England looked pretty good, with its division of sovereignty amongst King, Lords and Commons; its jury system; and its balanced constitution. No one in particular had invented this form of government; it simply came about by happy circumstance – and, of course, a fair bit of conflict.

In 1748 Montesquieu published his political ideas in The Spirit of the Laws. “One nation there is also in the world that has for the direct end of its constitution political liberty,” he wrote, with reference to England. Some four decades later on this side of the pond, the leaders of the newly independent American states drew heavily on Montesquieu’s magnum opus in fashioning their own constitutional document. There was perhaps a certain irony in Americans, who had just won a war for independence from England, borrowing from English models as interpreted by an admiring Frenchman. Yet for generations Americans had been accustomed to representative institutions inherited from the motherland. One of the key features they incorporated into their system was the separation of powers, thought at the time to characterize England’s constitution.

A century later, however, things looked rather different in what by then had become the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Writing in 1867, the journalist Walter Bagehot argued that the genius of The English Constitution (the title of his book on the subject) was not a separation of powers, but a “fusion of powers,” namely, the concentration of both legislative and executive powers in the cabinet, making for a highly efficient system able to get things done with a minimum of fuss. This is what we now know as the Westminster system of responsible government: the government of the day governs as long as it enjoys the confidence of the Commons, and if that confidence is withdrawn, the government resigns.

In the same year Bagehot published his influential book, our own Fathers of Confederation created a new federal union of four of the British North American colonies. Drawing again on their own political experience, they transplanted the Westminster system into the Dominion of Canada. A little over a generation later Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland and South Africa would follow suit, each operating under a more or less identical arrangement.

The British Parliament is often styled the “Mother of Parliaments,” due to its having been replicated in so many other countries. Because the English constitution has proven so durable and flexible in its homeland, it has been widely imitated. If the United States and Canada appear now to have different political systems based on contrasting principles, it is because each drew on England’s constitution at different stages in its development. Nevertheless, the two forms have served our respective countries well, and we could certainly do a lot worse.

Am I an Anglophile then? Well, I couldn’t manage to get past season two of Downton Abbey, so perhaps not. Nevertheless, I thank God to have lived my life in two countries that are heir to a highly successful political system with an enviable reputation of doing public justice over a vast swath of the globe’s surface.



David T. Koyzis is the author of Political Visions and Illusions (2003) and We Answer to Another:Authority, Office, and the Image of God (2014). He teaches politics at Redeemer University College and has lived in Canada for just over half his life. This post was published in the author's Principalities & Powers column in the 11 April 2016 issue of Christian Courier.

05 April 2016

On civil disobedience

For one day only my Christianity Today article is out from behind the paywall: Is It Time for American Christians to Disobey the Government? Tomorrow I will be interviewed on the subject of this article on Let's Talk with Mark Elfstrand over radio station WYLL AM 1160 in Chicago.

04 April 2016

The tempering of democracy: How recovering the classical mixed constitution could affect the way we vote

Polybios
No, it isn't just about Trump. Or Clinton or Sanders. It's about democracy itself, which most of us have come to think of as an unmitigated good. Throughout much of western history, however, democracy had a bad reputation, often seen as the penultimate stage in a constitution's degeneration, to be followed by that absolute worst form of government, tyranny. Plato in particular had many reasons to oppose democracy, which had led Athens into a disastrous war with Sparta and to the death of his revered mentor Socrates. The lesson for Plato seemed obvious: No ship's captain in his right mind would poll his crew on the best way to run the ship; he would instead rely on his own specialized knowledge. Similarly, a statesman who knows the art of statesmanship should govern according to this knowledge, not according to the shifting whims of a fickle and untutored public.

Plato's political philosophy has been castigated as unabashedly élitist, as something out of step with our own times. Nevertheless his fear of democracy was shared by most of the western tradition until very recently. Sir Winston Churchill gave democracy a backhanded compliment when he famously called it “the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

By contrast, one-time American presidential aspirant Alfred E. Smith offered a different diagnosis: “the cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy.” Over the past century the United States has moved increasingly in Smith's more evidently ideological direction rather than following Churchill's more cautious path. If the American founders established a federal republic similar in many respects to Great Britain's 18th-century constitution, their 19th- and 20th-century successors moved decisively to democratize as many institutions as they could manage, including the presidency, the Senate (1913) and many lower-level courts. These efforts gathered steam in the early years of the last century as the Progressive Movement sought at once to break the power of the old party bosses and to bring the insights of the social sciences to bear on public life.

One of the Progressives' key reforms was to institute a limited number of internal party primary elections as a way of testing a prospective candidate's appeal to the electorate. A candidate's performance in these pre-elections would be taken into account by the delegates to the party's convention later in the year, but they were by no means determinative of a victor in the larger nomination process. Generally there were still battles to be fought and decisions to be made at the convention itself.

This all changed when in 1968 the Democratic convention meeting in Chicago chose Vice-President Hubert Humphrey as its presidential nominee, despite his not having entered a single primary election beforehand. The resulting outrage within the party led to reforms aimed at further democratizing the nomination process, thereby carrying to its conclusion a process begun decades earlier. No more smoke-filled rooms where party bosses would choose a presidential candidate. Now the people themselves would choose the candidate through an increasing number of primaries and state party caucuses, the results of which would bind the convention delegates. A brokered convention would thus be rendered increasingly unlikely, and a party going into an election with an evidently weak presidential and vice-presidential team would be powerless to find replacements so late in the process. This unintended consequence has negatively affected both Democrats and Republicans at various times.

Might we do well to admit, not that democracy is a bad thing, but that too much democracy can harm a country's constitution? Indeed, if the prudential judgment in favor of democracy becomes an ideological democratism, animated by a belief in the infallibility of the popular will, the possibilities of abuse multiply accordingly. Candidates and parties are tempted to make promises that they must know they cannot keep and that no government, qua government, may even be competent to fulfill. Philosopher Yves R. Simon once wrote: “Any regime, in order to work well or merely to survive, needs or may need the operation of principles distinct from, and opposed to, its own idea.” Though this adage is not restricted to democracy, it definitely includes it: “a nondemocratic principle may serve democracy by holding in check forces fatal to it.” Some of those forces are the unintended side-effects of democracy itself, especially if the democratic principle is extended too far and the general will of the people comes to trump the rule of law.

Indeed even the rule of law is a nondemocratic principle, sorely needed to hold in check the potentially arbitrary whims of the popular will. But much more is needed. Beginning with Polybios in the 2nd century BC, many political philosophers concluded that the best constitution is one that incorporates elements of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy into a composite form. While each of the three alone tends to degenerate into an abusive distortion of just government, the mixed constitution will be more durable, as monarchical, aristocratic and democratic elements check each other. In some fashion, Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin endorsed the mixed constitution. In the 18th century Baron Montesquieu admired the English constitution whose durability and protection of liberty he ascribed to its division of powers, including a balanced relationship between King, Lords, and Commons; an independent judiciary; and the jury system.

Montesquieu
Two generations later the American founders drew on Montesquieu as they undertook to establish a new federal government characterized by checks and balances among three branches of government and a federal division of powers. And in the following century, Canada's Fathers of Confederation set up “a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom,” consisting of a popularly elected House of Commons, an appointed Senate and an appointed Governor General to represent the Queen. While recognizing the need for democratic participation in public affairs, they were under no illusions that they were creating an unqualified democracy and had no difficulty retaining nondemocratic institutions as integral components of the larger political framework.

What relevance does the classical mixed constitution have for choosing candidates for public office? The need for democracy is satisfied by giving citizens a choice between two or more candidates thoroughly vetted by their respective party organizations and presented to the people as the best persons for the job. The aristocratic principle—necessary in all political systems—should come into play within the parties themselves as would-be candidates are screened in accordance with established criteria to insure a high level of competence and personal integrity. Only then would they be brought before the public for their verdict.

I am reluctant, of course, to advocate the abolition of primary elections and a return to the smoke-filled rooms of the past. In this democratic age, even the faintest whiff of élitism could elicit a negative response from many quarters. Nevertheless, as a potential voter, I would prefer to think that the leaders of whichever party I favor have done everything they can to nominate a quality candidate before I have to make a choice. Is that too much to ask?

This post is cross-listed at First Thoughts.

03 April 2016

Confessions of a dual citizen

As many readers may already know, I was born an American citizen just outside of Chicago, becoming a Canadian a little over two decades ago. As my birth family was politically minded, I became aware at an early age of events in our country and in the larger world. My earliest memory was of the 1960 presidential campaign, while easily the most traumatic event of my childhood was the assassination of President John Kennedy. The Cold War and the threat of communism were near the surface of our thoughts much of the time, especially because one of our neighbours had been a prisoner in the Soviet Gulag for 10 years after the end of the war.

Presidential election campaigns always elicited our interest. In those years both parties had progressive and conservative wings. White Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics tended to vote Democratic, while northern evangelical and mainline Protestants generally voted Republican. Democrats and Republicans were not that far apart, both claiming to stand in the larger liberal tradition, differing only on which party was its legitimate heir.

However, in the time I’ve lived in Canada the politics of my home country have become unrecognizable and increasingly puzzling, even to an academic political scientist. In 2008 Americans voted into the presidency a man whose campaign machine portrayed him in near messianic terms. Promising to reunite a polarized nation, he instead pursued divisive policies that indicated, among other things, a lack of understanding of the importance of religious freedom, especially outside the four walls of a church building. Yet his overall demeanour was presidential – almost regal – and he managed to inspire confidence with most of the electorate.

Unfortunately, his two opponents in 2008 and 2012 were less than outstanding contenders, and the results of the two elections only increased the polarization of the electorate.

This year in particular has me scratching my head, as Americans are supporting more extreme candidates in both parties.

Donald Trump has no political experience to speak of, but considerable familiarity with the dark world of rapacious capitalism, going so far as to sue an elderly widow over her house, which stood on property he coveted for one of his real estate developments. With his outrageous statements, Trump is obviously tapping into a vein of anger coursing through a certain segment of the electorate, bringing to the American scene something of the flavour of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Nostalgia for a past when America was apparently greater than it is now somewhat parallels Russian wistfulness for a vanished Soviet Union.

On the Democratic side, increasing numbers of Americans support a professed democratic socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. In the past, the very word socialism was the kiss of death in a political campaign. After 1932, which represents the high water mark for a socialist party at the polls, it became tainted by at least verbal associations with German national socialism and Soviet-style communism, whose ideological illusions left scores of millions of victims in their wake.

However, Sanders’ socialism lacks the communitarian element in most socialist movements. He is something of a political loner, more resembling Jimmy Stewart in the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington than Vladimir Lenin or even our own Thomas Mulcair. Instead Sanders is more of a Roosevelt-style New Dealer, pushing welfare state programmes that Canadians and Europeans take for granted. An independent at heart, he joined the Democratic Party only recently to run for its presidential nomination. What Sanders has been unable to explain to his supporters, however, is how a country running a $440 billion deficit and burdened by a $19 trillion debt will implement even a portion of his promises.

As I write Trump is doing better than expected in the state primary elections that have occurred thus far. On the Democratic side Hillary Clinton and Sanders are both garnering support. It is too early to say what the race will look like in November, but some pundits are sticking their necks out and predicting a contest between Trump and Clinton. Though Clinton is more of a mainstream candidate than Trump, her reputation has been sullied by controversies over her use of a private email server and her conduct as Secretary of State during the Benghazi attack in 2012. Many long-time Democrats are unenthusiastic about her candidacy.

This puts many Americans in a quandary. As a U.S. citizen, I have the right to vote by absentee ballot based on my one time residence in DuPage County, Illinois. However, after 30 years in Canada, I am becoming increasingly uneasy with doing so, as I am far removed from especially state and local issues. Moreover, the prospect of having to choose between two seriously flawed candidates makes me even more disinclined to vote this time around.

While I am at present unsure what I will do in November, I am altogether certain that I will continue to pray that the leaders of both countries will govern according to the principles of public justice. I would urge you to do the same.

This post originally appeared as David Koyzis' Principalities & Powers column in Christian Courier's 14 March 2016 issue. A Portuguese translation can be found here: Confissões de um cidadão de dupla nacionalidade.

23 March 2016

Cristo, Cultura e Carson: uma resenha

Efforts to translate my writings into Portuguese continue apace with the appearance of this review of Donald A. Carson's book, Christ and Culture Revisited: Cristo, Cultura e Carson.The original English-language version appeared in Comment in 2009: Christ, Culture and Carson. Carson's book is, of course, a re-evaluation of H. Richard Niebuhr's classic 1951 book, Christ and Culture.

22 March 2016

On civil disobedience

Is it ever right for Christians to disobey their governments?  Christianity Today commissioned me to write this cover story for its April 2016 issue to assist the larger community of believers in answering this question: Why All Christians Should Consider Civil Disobedience. An excerpt:

We need not support theocracy to recognize that the Bible calls on earthly rulers to do justice within the context of their offices (Ps. 82, Isa. 10:1–2). Christians as far apart politically as Jim Wallis and James Dobson have recognized this. To remain faithful to our calling, we cannot keep our light hidden under a bushel (Matt. 5:15). When rulers ignore or flagrantly transgress their biblical mandate, believers may need to take dramatic steps to awaken consciences and agitate for change.
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09 March 2016

(Re)Discovering the Evangelical Mind

Six years ago I published this article in Comment: (Re)Discovering the Evangelical Mind. Now it has been translated into Portuguese and published here: (RE)Descobrindo a mente evangélica.

08 March 2016

The end of democracy? Social media's usurpation of politics

Two decades ago the journal First Things published a controversial symposium under the general title, “The End of Democracy? The Judicial Usurpation of Politics.” Debate over the role of the courts in public life has only intensified since the symposium's appearance. Now, however, it may be that another, more subtle threat is coming from outside the formal institutions of government. This threat has the potential to alter negatively the culture that until recently has supported these institutions. Since following the crowd and joining Facebook nine years ago, I am increasingly convinced that social media sites are having a similar detrimental effect on democratic institutions.

Because I am a professional political scientist, I take more interest than is probably good for me in what people post on politics. In an ideal world such a site could provide a forum for those willing to debate the great issues of the day and possibly even the philosophies undergirding efforts to address them. But, of course, this is not what happens. Far from it. Facebookers of all persuasions post “memes,” typically consisting of a photograph of a prominent political figure with a humorous or outrageous quotation emblazoned across the top or bottom. It is usually intended to mock one's political opponents by highlighting an obvious negative. Perhaps an overheard misstatement uttered in an unguarded moment or something taken out of context that makes its source look foolish, bigoted or even criminal.

These memes do little to advance dialogue and, in fact, have the effect of stopping conversation and hardening an increasingly polarized electorate in previously-held opinions. They irritate and outrage. They encourage ad hominem attacks. The number of friendships that have ended over social media is difficult to determine, but an educated guess is that it is not a small number.

Might it be harming the political system itself? Americans typically think of a constitution as a document drawn up by a committee and intended to function as the “supreme law of the land,” in the words of the United States Constitution's Supremacy Clause. Their assumption is that the constitution's unprecedented success is due to the extraordinary cleverness of the founders who created it. Having drafted a balanced system distributing political power among three branches and two levels of government, they established an enduring form of government for ages to come. A half truth at best, the reality is more complicated. Paper constitutions by themselves cannot create real constitutions.

What is a real constitution? Less prescriptive than empirical, it encompasses the sum total of political traditions and institutions as they function in the real world. “It embraces all those practices, memories, and principles that actually structure the body politic,” as Edward A. Goerner puts it. In this respect, the US constitution is less a document than a highly successful political system rooted in traditions of representative government long antedating 1787. Without these pre-existing traditions, no constitutional document, however well fashioned, would have worked over the long term. The 1993 Constitution of the Russian Federation reads very well indeed, borrowing heavily from American and French models, establishing a hybrid presidential-parliamentary system. Sad to say, the mere existence of this document has done little to obstruct the development of what can only be called an increasingly authoritarian Putinocracy.

The real constitution of the United States is dependent on many generations of political experience extending as far back as Magna Carta, whose 800th anniversary we celebrated last year. The establishment of the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1619 brought the first parliamentary assembly to the Americas and laid a foundation for self-government on a wider scale by the end of the following century. If politics is downstream from culture, then the living complex of intangible attitudes and worldviews is more important than concrete political institutions and policy alternatives.

What does this have to do with social media? After nearly a decade of observing political behavior on such sites, it appears to me that the traditions of civility extolled by Walter Lippmann six decades ago have fallen on hard times. Social media tend to magnify the expansive self, encouraging participants to stake out a virtual identity within the ethereal territory of the world wide web: “This is who I am, like it or not!” “My political beliefs are part of my identity; to call them into question is to call my very identity into question.” Rather than discussing the issues in an intelligent way that might make us open to opposing viewpoints, we are now backing each other into corners, holding up to ridicule those stupid enough to find merit in, well, you fill in the blank.

The danger to our political institutions comes, not just from the refusal to extend charity to those with whom we disagree, but from a failure to recognize that democracy itself depends on competition and healthy differences of opinion. Social media encourage Democrats to portray Republicans as so backwards and unenlightened that the country would be better off without them. Similarly, Republicans post memes that make Democrats look like dangerous radicals barely worth tolerating. I have yet to see a meme in which, say, a professed Democrat encourages Republicans to eschew certain unpalatable presidential candidates for the sake of the Republican Party itself and for the overall health of America's democracy. Where are the Republicans who believe that effective representative government requires a robust Democratic Party, even if they disagree with its principles?

Needless to say, such sentiments would not fit easily into a “meme.” Concern for the overall health of political institutions has never been the stuff of placards and demonstrations. It does not lend itself well to sarcasm or mockery. In particular, it does nothing to enhance one's public persona for the supposed benefit of the rest of the world. One need not be especially high-minded to recognize that political institutions matter. But so do the supportive traditions in which they are anchored. We take for granted that the institutions will always be there for us. But if we continue to allow and perhaps even contribute to the erosion of these traditions that enable them to function, we should not be surprised if our political life becomes more polarized at their expense.

David Koyzis is author of Political Visions and Illusions and We Answer to Another: Authority, Office, and the Image of God. He teaches politics at Redeemer University in Canada. This post is cross listed at First Thoughts.

24 February 2016

Electus interview

I was recently interviewed by Thiago Oliveira and Thomas Magnum de Almeida for the Electus blog in Brazil. The interview was published today in Portuguese. Here is the English version below:

ELECTUS: It seems that we have reached an “age of extremes.” Around the world conservatives and progressive are more and more tending to radicalism in their speeches. Social networks seem to feed this extremism. What do you think about this? Do you believe this age has arrived?

KOYZIS: It is true that a lot of political rhetoric sounds extreme, as exemplified in the current presidential election campaign taking place in the United States. And, yes, social media such as facebook encourage this sort of thing. On the other hand, if we take the longer view, the 1920s and '30s were considerably worse, with communism, fascism and national socialism (Nazism) in power over huge numbers of people in the Eurasian continent. Thank God, we have no Stalins, Hitlers or Mussolinis in the 21st century. Today the most powerful ideological visions are much more subtle, making their presence felt through the media, education and even the churches, which use their influence to persuade people to accept their accounts of reality, including political life.

ELECTUS: Brazil is still in its infancy with respect to conservative and liberal ideas, because for a long time, especially after the end of the military dictatorship, Marxist thinking has ruled our political life. By and large, and also among protestant Christians, Brazilians are getting to know such conservative authors as Roger Scruton, Russell Kirk and Edmund Burke. What is your assessment of a possible rapprochement between Christian political thought and conservatism—especially the British variety?

KOYZIS: There are definitely possibilities for some form of rapprochement, but Christians would do well to exercise caution. Many conservatives, such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Russell Kirk and Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, were indeed serious Christians who, as far as we can tell, genuinely believed in the truth of the faith. But other conservatives embrace Christianity, not necessarily because it is true, but because it has a certain utilitarian value in upholding public morals. Conservatism at its best offers wise counsel in the face of transformational ideologies that would upend society on the pretext of starting over along more ostensibly rational lines. Writing in 1790, Burke foresaw with startling clarity the future of the French Revolution and its likely outcome at the hands of a tyrannical ruler. He understood that, despite superficial appearances that the French were finally replacing absolute monarchy with constitutional government, there was a destructive spirit at large that would bring the revolution to a bad end. He was right, of course, and this is why we still read Burke’s writings today.

On the other hand, flesh and blood conservatives are all over the map when it comes to specific political principles. Konstantin Pobedonostsev (1827-1907), conservative tutor to the last two Russian tsars, defended monarchical absolutism, while North American conservatives could scarcely be expected to agree. Canadian conservatives defend constitutional monarchy and parliamentary government, while American conservatives defend the separation of powers instituted by their founders in the 1780s. Where they are likely to agree is in affirming that government cannot do everything. But that is insufficient to set forth a vision of just governance in a complex society. So, no, Christians cannot be content to be conservatives even as we might view them as allies on specific issues.

ELECTUS: Political ideas are the fruit of worldviews. Within our academic institutions students are being indoctrinated into political ideologies which are the fruit of a particular worldview. What advice would you give to Christian young people who have studied at the universities, especially the humanities, and have been bombarded by idolatrous ideologies?

KOYZIS: First of all, I would tell them to keep their eyes on Jesus Christ and the centrality of the cross and resurrection. It is easy to get sidetracked in the midst of the diverse responsibilities of a busy life. This does not mean we should forsake such responsibilities and devote ourselves exclusively to a life of prayer. It does mean that we live out our diverse callings (for example, as husbands, wives, citizens, employees, students, teachers and so forth) recognizing that our ultimate loyalty is to the God who has created, redeemed and empowered us to live according to his word.

What implications does this have for political ideologies? The followers of such ideological visions are in effect wearing blinders that enable them to see only a very few things and only from a certain vantage point. Liberals can see only individual freedom and tend to downplay the significance of other legitimate factors. Conservatives properly see the important place of tradition but have difficulty formulating criteria by which to assess the value of these traditions. Nationalists understand the importance of solidarity within particular groups of people sharing common characteristics and goals, but they tend to make an idol of the nation.

Students exposed to these ideologies need to be aware that the worldviews in which they are rooted give them a distorted picture of the real world, which is far more complex than they are led to believe. A Marxist would have them believing that simply removing economic barriers will unlock the innate virtues in human beings and lead to a flourishing classless society, ignoring, not only the reality of sin which cannot be eradicated short of the second coming of Christ, but the multiple motivating factors that condition life in a real society. Economics isn’t everything.

By contrast, a biblical worldview has the decided advantage of recognizing that our world belongs to God and finds its ultimate meaning in him. If we are Christians, we do not have to look for a principle of unity within creation, where it can never be found. Rather, we recognize the genuine diversity of God’s creation whose unity comes from him alone.

ELECTUS: The Catholic Theology of Liberation (TL) is known to combine Christianity with Marxist ideas. But there is also an evangelical version that resembles this approach. It normally uses the term integral mission, which was coined in Lausanne, but does not condemn Marxism, as did the Pattaya Report (1980). Such authors as Francis Schaeffer have labelled Marxism a Christian heresy because of its soteriological orientation. Do you share this view? And what are the dangers of synthesizing theology with political ideology?

KOYZIS: Yes, definitely. Marxism is indeed a Christian heresy, but it is not alone in this. All of the ideological visions that have influenced the modern world are in effect Christian heresies. Each posits a false redemptive narrative that begins with a central problem capable of being resolved only by an earthly redeemer of some sort. For Marxists, the proletariat (that is, the industrial working class) is the messiah who ushers in the classless society, a secularized form of the kingdom of God. For nationalists, redemption comes with the liberation of the nation from foreign rule. For liberals the maximization of individual freedom brings in the kingdom. Indeed at the present time it may be argued that the established religion in much of the world today is the religion of human rights, such rights being ascribed to the expansive self and its desires, often at the expense of other legitimate considerations, including the good of the larger communities of which we are part.

As for the dangers of “synthesizing theology with political ideology,” I would express it differently. The danger is of having divided loyalties. “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). If we claim to serve God, we must serve him wholly and not keep anything back. We must allow him to transform our desires and aspirations so that they conform to his will for our lives. If we settle for anything less, we in effect settle for another gospel.

ELECTUS: Reformed theology contemplates every field of human activity, as we see taught in the principle of sphere sovereignty (Abraham Kuyper). How important is a good theological foundation for articulating and living out a solid Christian worldview? Which authors would you recommend for readers wishing to deepen their understanding of politics?

KOYZIS: We must begin with the recognition, in the words of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), that we are not our own but belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to our faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. Our world belongs to God and not to us. We cannot do whatever we wish with God’s world, and that has profound implications for the way we do politics. If we fail to recognize this reality, we are likely to fall prey to any number of illusory promises that no government anywhere is in a position to fulfil.

But it’s not merely a matter of correct theology, which could be taken to imply that we are saved by correct theorizing. As Christians we are shaped by the liturgical practices of the church, to which we are called as members of the body of Christ. We must read the scriptures and, as Lesslie Newbigin puts it, find our own place within the biblical redemptive narrative. We need to follow our ancient forebears in the faith and pray through the Psalter on a regular basis. (Reading Psalm 88 every month should be sufficient to immunize people against the enticements of a false prosperity gospel!) The gospel must live in our hearts and not only in our heads.

Which authors would I recommend? More of Abraham Kuyper’s writings are being translated from Dutch into English every year, and I hope they will one day be translated into Portuguese as well. I am gratified by the tremendous reception that my Visões e Ilusões Politicas has received in Brazil. For those who know English, I would recommend anything written by James W. Skillen, Paul Marshall, Jonathan Chaplin, and the online publications of the Center for Public Justice and Cardus here in Canada. And, of course, I would be happy to offer my own writings to anyone interested.

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can be contacted at: dkoyzis@redeemer.ca