Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Ground of Liberty: The Word of God

Henry Van Til remarked that culture is the “externalization of religion,” a product of the religious presuppositions that under gird a culture. The blessings of Western culture thus are merely the outworking and externalization of the faith of Christendom.

Constitutionalism, the rule of law and the free market are outgrowths of a Christian worldview. True liberty is found in Christ and other forms of freedom are merely derivative of that fact. The blessings of the West and the resultant freedom of men to develop property and fulfill their callings is a product of fidelity to scripture.

Trinitarian Christianity resolves the tension between the one and the many, providing for a social structure balancing order and freedom. Humanism by definition lacks any basis for law and values and ultimately collapses upon itself. For Christians, that base or foundation is God’s written law revealed in scripture. The content and the authority of the law is ultimately grounded upon and rooted in God Himself. Therefore, neither the church nor state is above the law. Economic and political freedom are thus a product of a biblical social order which places a priority on liberty in Christ, recognizes land and freedom to use land as an aspect of salvation—a place to have dominion, and condemns theft, including theft perpetrated by the messianic state.

Unbelief naturally creates conditions of lawlessness because it attempts to destroy the Lawgiver. As a result a culture of death and present mindedness arises which ultimately stifles economic growth and destroys political liberty. Consequently, humanistic cultures become imperial in nature as a means of survival.

Unfortunately the zeal of the imperial crusader can often be found in the hearts of many professing believers sitting in the pews of our churches. Such zeal is usually masked or baptized. Witness this quote from Richard Land as an example:

We believe that America has a special role to play in the world. Now we do not believe that America is God’s chosen nation, but we do believe that God’s providence has blessed this country, and that that is a belief that brings with it obligations and responsibilities and that America has a special obligation and responsibility to be the friend of freedom and the friend of democracy in the world.

And I cannot tell you the number of Southern Baptists and other evangelicals and Catholics who told me that they were moved to tears by the president’s second inaugural address and the statement that we are going to be the friend of freedom. People of traditional religious values believe America has a special obligation and responsibility because of the blessings we have received to be the friend of the oppressed ... and to help those who want freedom for themselves.

Francis Schaeffer, a hero to many evangelicals, understood that liberty was a product of culture, specifically Christian culture, and could not grow in the soil of alien worldviews. He wrote, "When the men of our State Department, especially after World War II, went all over the world trying to implant our form-freedom balance in government downward on cultures whose philosophy would never have produced it, it has, in almost every cases, ended in some form of totalitarianism or authoritarianism."

Heathen cultures reject the King and ultimately devolve into statism and tyranny, the rule of godless men (I Sam. 8:7-20). The urge to dominion, a God-given impulse, is perverted by sin. Ungodly men still yearn for power and possession, but their authority no longer stems from servant-mindedness but from the exercise of raw power.

As David Chilton says, capitalism and freedom cannot be exported to those cultures hostile to true liberty:

To unbelieving economists, professors, and government officials, it is a mystery why capitalism cannot be exported. Considering the obvious, proven superiority of the free market in raising the standard of living for all classes of people, why don't pagan nations implement capitalism into their social structures? The reason is this: Freedom cannot be exported to a nation that has no market place for the Gospel. The blessings of the Garden cannot be obtained apart from Jesus Christ. The Golden Rule which sums up the law and the prophets (Matt. 7:12)—is the inescapable ethical foundation for the free market; and this ethic is impossible apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, who enables us to keep the righteous requirements of God's law (Rom. 8:4).


Patrick Durkee said...

While I certainly believe in the truth of the Gospel and am a support of free markets, I balk at making such a connection between the two.

"Why don't pagan nations implement capitalism into their social structures? The reason is this: Freedom cannot be exported to a nation that has no market place for the Gospel. The blessings of the Garden cannot be obtained apart from Jesus Christ."

This statement seems to imply that capitalism has "succeeded" in the United States because it is inherently Christian. The implication also seems to be that the United States is blessed economically (which we are), we are supporters of capitalism, therefore, our financial success must be the result of God's favor on us as a Christian nation. Such a statement seems unfounded biblically. Certainly God blesses pagan farmers with rain. However, that blessing is an example of God giving the pagan farmer a favor, not His favor toward them. The same is true for the United States' economic success - it may indeed be a favor from God, but it is certainly not a sign of His favor toward the country.


Stephen Cochrane said...

Jesus told the parable about a father and his two sons. One of the sons promised to do the father's work while the other son did not promise to do the father's work. Which one honored their father more? Well, as the parable unfolds, the son who promised to do the work of the father did not follow through. He did nothing. The other son, though he made no promises, he was the one that honored his father more because he did end up working for his father.

Though the bible doesn't specifically make the connection, I can't help but think of all the promises that are made in communist/socialist philosophy, and yet history shows us the only thing it can accomplish is starve people to death. Capitalism, though it makes no such promises, it works! Billions of people around the world are fed as the result of countries who practice free enterprise. Which one do you think honors the Father more?

Darrell said...


1) The United States is by no means a Christian nation, and I don't think I implied as much, nor do I think Chilton's quote, which you cite, points us in that direction.

2) I would, however, hasten to add that there is a clear connection between blessing and obedience. This is not always universally so, but is a general truism confirmed by Scripture.

3) Wealth can be a blessing and it can be a curse. If a disobedient and wayward people refuse to recognize God as the author of every good and perfect gift than surely they will be punished. In that sense wealth can be a great temptation to deny God's providence and lift up ourselves.

4) The rain that falls on the disbelieving farmer is one more blessing actually heaping judgment upon the disobedient. This is the stage our land our nation is rapidly approaching.


Patrick Durkee said...

"I would, however, hasten to add that there is a clear connection between blessing and obedience."

Obedience leads to:
spiritual blessing = yes

material blessing = absolutely not


Lee Shelton said...

"To unbelieving economists, professors, and government officials, it is a mystery why capitalism cannot be exported."

Is it any wonder why America has such an interventionist foreign policy? Sadly, this thinking spills over into domestic policy as well. We just don't get it. Only the gospel has the power to transform hearts and lives.

Darrell said...


I am a Baptist and certainly see much shadow in the OT, but can you really read Deuteronomy 28 and not think that GENERALLY speaking living in obedience to the commands of God produces not merely spiritual contentment but material blessing, too?

Surely if you read the wisdom literature, brief aphorisms encapsulating the law and standards of God, particularly the Proverbs, you will see a God-created cause and effect relationship between morality and hard work, and between hard work and the accumulation of capital (economic and spiritual).

We also see that bad actions cause bad results: “A good man leaves an inheritance for his children's children, but a sinner's wealth is stored up for the righteous” (Prov. 13:22). “He who increases his wealth by exorbitant interest amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor” (Prov. 28:8).

Proverbs demonstrates that the world is not governed by impersonal laws and forces, but by a providential God and His covenants. There is an ethical cause and effect. To completely spiritualize this denies that the salvation wrought by Christ is comprehensive in scope, that is goes far as the curse is found.

Darrell said...


Great point applying this to foreign policy. When the state becomes messianic in nature, attempting to take on attributes of divinity, it will seek to spread its power far and wide.

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