Politics in the Bible, Wayne Grudem, and NIV 2011

Long term readers of Gentle Wisdom will know that I am no admirer of Wayne Grudem. I have not always been negative about him. But I have been critical of his complementarian position restricting women in ministry. I have pointed out how he has persistently made errors of fact in his biblical arguments for that position. I have rejected his doctrine of functional subordination within the Trinity. And I have had especially strong words to say, mostly elsewhere, about the intemperate and unscholarly way in which Grudem led the condemnation of the TNIV Bible.

So I am happy that Grudem has kept quiet about the NIV 2011 update. I haven’t found any mention of it by him since its publication. Very likely he shares the concerns so strongly expressed by Denny Burk, who has taken his place as the chief spokesman of CBMW on such matters. But he has not put the authority of his name and reputation behind a destructive campaign in the way that he did with TNIV. Rod Decker is wrong to suggest that he has done, while making a good point about Grudem’s hypocrisy over singular “they”. One consequence of Grudem’s silence is that very likely NIV 2011 will become widely accepted, as TNIV was not, as the successor of the 1984 NIV.

Wayne Grudem: Politics according to the BibleBut I wonder if there is something other than a change of heart behind Grudem’s reticence on NIV 2011. This could be related to his book Politics According to the Bible. As this book is published by Zondervan, and promoted on their Koinonia blog, there could be contract conditions preventing Grudem from publicly condemning NIV 2011, another Zondervan product. And Grudem would certainly be wise not to cross the lawyers for News Corporation, owners of Zondervan. Yes, Zondervan is part of Rupert Murdoch’s controversial empire, which goes to show that even the worst egg can be good in parts.

The Koinonia post is an extract from an interview with Grudem by the Acton Institute, about his book – which is actually not as new as I thought at first, as it was published in September last year. Now this is another book that I am mentioning without having read it, so please don’t take this as a review (whatever post categories this might be in). I am responding only to what is in the Acton Institute interview. But I must say I was more favourably impressed than I have been with other things I have seen from Grudem. He has a number of excellent things to say in the interview, including this:

I found that in the Bible there were many examples of God’s people influencing secular governments. I am arguing in the book that it is a spiritually good thing and it is pleasing to God when Christians can influence government for good.

In view of his position on women’s rights in the church and family, this is somewhat ironic:

Christian influence led to granting property rights and other protections to women at various times through history.

But Christian political activity needs to be put in the right context:

My book seeks to warn Christians away from the temptation of thinking if we just elect the right leaders and pass the right laws, we will have a good nation. That fails to understand that a genuine transformation of a nation will not come about unless peoples’ hearts are changed so that they have a desire to do what is right and live in obedience to good laws.

I am somewhat ambivalent on what Grudem says about unemployment benefit, but he is asking the right questions:

… we are to care for the poor and those in need, and the Bible frequently talks about the need to care for the poor. I think government has a legitimate role in providing a safety net for those who are in genuine need of food, clothing and shelter.

There is also a strong strand of biblical teaching that emphasizes the importance of work to earn a living. … The longer that unemployment benefits are continued, the more we contribute to the idea that some people should not have to work in order to earn a living, but we should just continue to have government support them. That creates a culture of dependency, which is unhealthy for the nation and unhealthy for the people who are dependent, year after year, on government handouts.

Indeed. But this needs to be balanced by a realisation that, within our modern economic system, there are many people who genuinely want to earn their own living but are unable to do so, for personal reasons or because no work is available. In our society these are the poor that the Bible calls us to support, for the long term at least in the case of needy widows (1 Timothy 5:9). There is no place in Christian teaching for benefits being cut off after a fixed period.

Grudem finishes as follows:

It is important for Christians to settle in their hearts that God is in control over history, and His purposes will be accomplished.

The last chapter of my book has to do with combining work to bring good influence to government, coupled with faith in God and prayer that God’s good purposes will reign in earthly governments. I think we have to do both things, because God hears prayers, and He also works through the efforts and actions of human beings who are seeking to influence government for good.

Amen!

7 thoughts on “Politics in the Bible, Wayne Grudem, and NIV 2011

  1. I thank Suzanne for drawing my attention to a review of Grudem’s book by Krish Kandiah, of the Evangelical Alliance here in the UK. This illustrates the dangers of commenting on a book without reading it.

    If Krish’s review is a fair one, and I would expect it to be from what I know of him, this is by no means a book I could recommend. It comes across as a one-sided attempt to justify American “small government republicanism” by proof-texting from the Bible.

    Krish makes this revealing point about Grudem’s method, which explains why his work is attractive to keen and impressionable young Christians (as it was to the young Krish) but in fact fundamentally flawed:

    it almost feels like everything was a primary issue of Grudem – there is no sense of “Christians differ on these issues, I maybe in the wrong here and so these are not issues that we need to divide over” instead Grudem seems to have very little respect for other views – there is a sense of omniscience in his writing – a sense that Grudem believes the Bible to be crystal clear on all the issues he looks at.

    While there is a place for speaking and writing with authority, it should never be done without giving proper respect to others and their views.

  2. Hi Peter, I browsed through Grudem’s new book in the bookstore a while ago and would agree with Krish’s assessment. It seemed that Grudem’s book was nothing more than a defense of economically conservative politics against what the Bible says about economic justice in society. In America, social and economic conservatism is so intertwined that social conservatives feel obligated to swallow the most unnatural interpretations of the Bible when it comes to society’s obligation to the must vulnerable groups. To be a social conservative almost invariably means to support economically conservative political positions.

  3. Thank you, Tyson. This suggests to me that the Acton Institute interview was an attempt to defend the book from these kinds of charges, and so Grudem was putting the least conservative spin that he could on the book.

  4. Yep, as you say, good in parts. Trouble is, can an egg that is only good in parts ever hatch? And if it does, what sort of monstrosity emerges? Can fresh water and brine flow from the same spring? Can a good tree bear bad fruit or vice-versa? At what point does compromise with iniquity and inequity (is there a difference?) become fatal? At what point do we — should we — decide to spit out the lukewarm water rather than swallow it? Sorry — right now I only have questions, not answers, but my stomach is churning…

  5. Phil, I did consider turning this post into something like “Grudem sells his soul to Murdoch”. No doubt that would have attracted a lot more attention. But it wouldn’t be fair on my friends at Zondervan who are trying hard to sell Christian books, many of which are excellent, as I’m sure you know, even if Grudem’s isn’t. They, like Ruth Gledhill, and for that matter like many of the News of the World staff who have now lost their jobs, are the innocent victims in this. The people you should be going after are the shareholders – and so I support your campaign for the Church of England to disinvest.

  6. “This suggests to me that the Acton Institute interview was an attempt to defend the book from these kinds of charges, and so Grudem was putting the least conservative spin that he could on the book.”

    I’m not sure that this would entirely help. The Acton Institute is fairly conservative – and by UK standards very conservative – having employed people with both Dominionist and Libertarian leanings in the past.

    “But I wonder if there is something other than a change of heart behind Grudem’s reticence on NIV 2011.”

    So you think it’s possible he only didn’t speak because of the money involved? That’s a fairly serious accusation and not one I would want to make lightly.

  7. Chris, I am not suggesting anything improper concerning Grudem’s reticence. I am suggesting that he was quite properly living up to his contractual obligations, which may well include not speaking out against another of his publishers’ products. But I don’t know if there actually are such conditions in this case or in similar ones.

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