Does the Slippery Slope Always Go to the Left?

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September 1, 2010 Tags: Pastoral Voices

Today's video features N.T. Wright. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

In this video Conversation, Peter Enns asks author and theologian N.T. Wright to respond to a question from a BioLogos Forum reader about the implications of the relationship between politics and religion within the evangelical movement.

The reader notes that presently in the world of evangelical Christianity there seems to be a great suspicion about becoming too politically liberal but not about becoming too conservative. There seems to be a “slippery slope” argument toward the left, but not toward the right. This environment may lead to those on the left side of the evangelical spectrum to think about leaving the Church altogether—or for them to keep silent and not have any influence. Enns asks Wright for his thoughts on this issue.

Wright points out that the intermarriage of political and religious thought is much more common in the United States than in other places in the world. In contrast to American constructs—in England, for example, people who are very conservative theologically are generally more progressive in terms of their social and political views.

Therefore, what would be helpful within American evangelicalism is to uncouple the artificial connections that people have made between Christianity and political agendas. There are insights that we need to get from the Bible we don’t normally expect, says Wright, and from places and people in the Church that we might not expect. Otherwise, he cautions, all we are doing is substituting our framework and judging people according to how they fit into our framework rather than by what is actually the given at the heart of our faith.

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Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.


N.T. Wright is a leading biblical scholar, former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England, and current Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, University of St Andrews. He studied for the ministry at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and was ordained at Merton College, Oxford. Wright holds a Doctor of Divinity from Oxford University in addition to several honorary doctorates. Wright has also written over fifty books, including the multi-volume work Christian Origins and the Question of God and his two most recent books Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters and How God Became King.


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Rich - #27930

September 3rd 2010

Merv:

I agree with most of your comments immediately above.  Yes, faith should make people concerned about social and political and economic matters of the day—if faith is just believing in a theological proposition as a ticket to heaven after you die, it’s a betrayal of the teaching of Jesus and the prophets, who wanted people to *live* differently.  But I also agree with you that faith quite often doesn’t enlighten us as to what the best policy is.  We all want good health care, but what mix of private and public funding that should involve is not dictated by the Sermon on the Mount; we all want to preserve the environment, but what means should be used, at what social and economic cost, may not be covered by the laws of Moses.  So Christians still must exercise intellectual and practical judgment, and hence there can be conscientious Christians on the “right” and on the “left”.

Finally I agree with you about the direction of the slippage.  While from time to time over the last 30 years economics and foreign policy have shifted back to the so-called “right”, in social, cultural and religious matters, the overwhelming tendency of the mainstream of society has been to the “left”.


Jon Garvey - #27935

September 3rd 2010

Merv

I’ve seen at least one poster on the site who used to be an evolutionist and became a creationist. I would suspect that even that was a global part of conversion to Evangelical Christianity, because the issues are so closely tied over there.

That’s even true here in UK to an extent: popular Evangelicalism champions a shortlist of issues like abortion, evolution etc which, arguably, it largely imported from over the water. But the list somehow doesn’t include ill-treatment of immigrants, workers’ rights etc.

The difference here, I think, is that large parts of Evangelicalism have a wider awareness of issues raised by the Bible plus, of course, a more varied range of responses. If I’m a scientist who gets converted, there’s a fair chance I’ll find people who accept evolution in my church, and that the Pastor won’t start leaning on me.

All this is generalisation of course, and I’m basing my ideas on US Christianity from a long way away.


Paul D. - #28103

September 4th 2010

I have to ask, what’s wrong with a slippery slope if it leads you to the truth?

I certainly agree with divorcing religion from political biases — particularly since I’m an anarcho-libertarian, basically the political version of an atheist. All parties suck, and all political systems are corrupt to the point of wickedness, is what I believe. Christ was not the least bit interested in getting “his kind of people” into power in the Sanhedrin or Herod’s court.


Cal - #28152

September 4th 2010

Living righteously and after God, does not need to make you political. In my non-Christian, secular days I was all about the politics. America was the only force for good and it needed to be secured at all costs.

However, when I found Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I realized that governments are but worldly passings. That it would be better for a nation to be destroyed than a single soul lost. That it is more important in getting to know people face to face and take care of them at a person to person level than try and heap all the authority and strength to a government to take care of the job that we as Christians should be doing.

Governments can make laws and rules banning sinful things or allowing them, but its the hearts of people that perpetuate them. Ex. The Church needs to be out there preaching to the lost homosexuals and fornicators that they are on the path to destruction rather than getting laws passed that would involve any such behavior.


katz - #28195

September 4th 2010

Previous two posters:

I agree with you in general, and the goal of Christians in politics is certainly not to get Christians elected or to align laws with Christian morality.

But God likes results.  He wants, for instance, the hungry to be fed and the naked clothed.  Actions that have that result are glorifying to God.  So I think trying to bring about a political situation where more people are fed and clothed (I won’t get into what kind of politics that would be) is glorifying to God.


Paul D. - #28207

September 5th 2010

“But God likes results.  He wants, for instance, the hungry to be fed and the naked clothed.”

That’s an interesting proposition. I would play the Devil’s Advocate by saying if God wanted the hungry to be fed and the naked clothed, the omnipotent Almighty could make it so in a heartbeat.

Rather, He wants *us* to feed the hungry.  He wants *us* to feed the naked. Politics is a way of foisting that responsibility on someone else while still trying to take credit for it.

“I didn’t feed the hungry, Lord, but I voted to use violence to force people richer than me to do so. In the end, I think You would have been pleased by the results.”


gingoro - #28210

September 5th 2010

Paul D.@28207

Thanks for saying what I was thinking.  IMO we all need to take an active part in this kind of activity, even beyond sending money which lets us stay one step removed from the messy problem.  Not that sending money is not important.
Dave W


Dan - #28211

September 5th 2010

My counter to the proposition the previous poster brought up is that I might argue that, if God was uninterested in the issue of, say, feeding the hungry, why would He have mandated such propositions as the year of Jubilee in the Old Testament? (And what do you mean by “voted to use violence to force people richer than me to do so?” Taxation is not inherently violent, and is actually deemed legitimate in Romans 13.)

I readily admit that there is not a strong biblical warrant for a broader “welfare net” (a concept which would have been foreign to the culture at the time), but that the converse is not true, either: I see no support for the notion that we should actively be limited a government’s reach over our life.


Paul D. - #28218

September 5th 2010

@ Dan - #28211

“Taxation is not inherently violent”

Do you know what taxation is? Coercion is its single defining feature. There are only ways to give: freely or under coercion (threat of violence). The former is representative of Christ and God’s kingdom. The latter is representative of the evil and corrupt ways of men.

Most Christians seem to pretend God’s kingdom isn’t an option, and instead they must bicker about which evil is the lesser one on the way to the voting booth. I feel this has become a form of idolatry, as evidenced with the allegiance give to political systems and concepts like “left versus right”.

“why would He have mandated such propositions as the year of Jubilee in the Old Testament?”

To be honest, I really don’t understand what most of the ancient Hebrew rules and rituals were about. However, I assume it made sense in the context of how their society was structured and the special role God had for Israel.


katz - #28261

September 5th 2010

Do indirect actions not count?  If I start a nonprofit homeless-feeding ministry, am I reprehensible because I’m foisting the responsibility on other people?

Paul D.:  I guess you’re not a fan of streets, sewers, electricity, police, fire departments, etc.


merv - #28299

September 5th 2010

Paul, I don’t see the inherent “violence” in taxes that you seem to.  I can see the taxes of Christ’s time being described that way with corrupt tax practices and tax collectors lurking.  But even then, Christ’s attitude on the one occasion he mentions it is to note privately to his disciple that normally a king or a prince would be exempt—- “but so that we may not offend them” he goes ahead and pays up the temple tax (courtesy of a fish).  That doesn’t sound like violence to me.  But free choice to participate in a system (even if that system gets threatening in the event that you don’t make the ‘correct’ free choice.)  Whether to pay, or not to pay, it seems like the apostles, or even Christ himself are more eager to just get that issue out of the way so that they can get on with the real agenda of changing lives.

—Merv
(I like your comment, Katz—- I’m rather attached to the education system, since it employs me.)


gingoro - #28516

September 7th 2010

katz@28261

“Do indirect actions not count?  If I start a nonprofit homeless-feeding ministry, am I reprehensible because I’m foisting the responsibility on other people?”

It depends upon why you do it.  As Jesus says if you do it for the praise of men then you have your reward.  If you really care for the homeless then you are likely to be directly involved and not just sitting on the board of the homeless ministry.  Actually physically serving homeless people says things about your motivation and character and IMO it changes the person who is serving.  Serving the homeless indirectly is better than not doing anything at all but some of our calling should involve direct service in the unsafe messy world.  It subverts the “I love mankind but I can’t stand people” attitude.
Dave W


katz - #28727

September 8th 2010

Different people are in different positions in life and have different opportunities, no?


Johan - #28983

September 9th 2010

I like N.T. Wright, somehow I doubt the Biologos will post the little video clip where N.T. Wright talks about Darwin and the history of evolutionary thought.


Rich - #29001

September 9th 2010

Johan (28983):

Can you provide us with a link for that clip?


Johan - #29016

September 9th 2010

Sure, here you go, N.T. Wright on Darwin.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFTmZ9PFMx8


John VanZwieten - #30427

September 16th 2010

Johan,

Thanks for the link.  I think BioLogos should write a post based on that clip, and should interact with it.  I’d find that quite interesting.


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