If you are not currently aware of the dangers of Statism, then you are either Rip van Winkle (and I hope you have enjoyed your nap) or Robinson Crusoe (in which case, stay where you are). No doubt there is always lots of political debate, and the American people differ greatly on how political and social issues are to be handled. Even people with lots in common still differ. Even politically conservative Calvinists disagree with one another.
There is a place in the Christian community of thought and action where believers need to examine the big picture. Too often the fight is over dearly held principles and applications that prevent us from forming a wide coalition to combat our enemies. There are a times and places for red-in-the-face arguments over Transubstantiation, Barthianism, Constantine, and the Two-Kingdom View of theology; however, there are times when people need to dig trenches and prepare to do battle with common enemies.
Statism is one such battle. But we must begin with a definition. In his essay titled “Statism,” theologian R. C. Sproul defined it in this way:
A decline from statehood to statism happens when the government is perceived as or claims to be the ultimate reality. This reality replaces God as the supreme entity upon which human existence depends.
Notice that Dr. Sproul is giving a theological foundation for his explanation of Statism. This is entirely appropriate, and here even an unbeliever should nod in agreement, because the battle between Statism and Biblical Christianity is primarily a religious battle, not primarily political. It concerns ultimate reality rather than particulars in the social order. Statism and Theism (which we will use for the term Biblical Christianity) are both philosophies or worldviews. The suffix “ism” denotes that we are not just talking about whether there is or should be a political state or religious beliefs. “Ism” means that the noun preceding the suffix is implied to be a foundational set of beliefs. In many cases, such beliefs are ultimate, all defining, non-negotiable, and unchanging.
I believe in and love coffee in the mornings. But, contrary to how it might look, I do not hold to Coffeeism. (Will we have coffee in heaven? It is heaven, after all. The other place would likely have only instant decaf at best.)
Statism as a term can get us past some issues and terms that only fog up political talk. “Republican” and “Democrat” are such terms. I don’t mind admitting, proclaiming, and even boasting of being a Republican (much to the dismay of my deceased Southern ancestors). Words to the effect that God is or is not a Republican or Democrat are juvenile. (His political party is Monarchist.) Even the terms Liberal and Conservative are inexact. They are like the words “tall” and “short.” They are relative to the particular topic being discussed. “That tree is tall” and “that man is tall” mean different things due to context.
Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Jackson, Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Ronald Reagan can all be praised or darned for being either liberals or conservatives, depending upon how we use the words. As a Ronald Reagan conservative, I can applaud many leaders of the past who were considered for various reasons to be liberals. All too often, folks on my side of the political spectrum demonize all people who have been labeled as liberals. Demonization of people and parties doesn’t help create clear thinking or political possibilities for change. Lyndon Johnson’s convictions about civil rights were right. Harry Truman’s distrust of Communism was correct. George McGovern’s war time service in World War II was heroic.
Statism is the issue. Even when we recognize that the particulars of how the body politic is to be run, Statism needs to be the common enemy. Just like George Kennan and Paul Nitze disagreed over details but were both Cold Warriors, so should anti-Statists be united as much as possible.
For this reason, I want to call attention to two very important books describing and warning against the dangers of Statism.
Statism: The Shadows of Another Night, published this year (2015) by Tanglewood Press and distributed by Fortress Book Service (and sold on Amazon) is an outstanding collection of essays on the topic. Edited by Charlie Rodriquez, this collection includes articles and documents by former Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan and by Christian writers, such as Timothy Keller, Francis Schaeffer, C. S. Lewis, R. C. Sproul (whose essay was referenced above), John Frame, and George Grant.
If for no other reason, this book is good as a way to get introduced to some of the most insightful Christian writers of the present time and the recent past. But the relevance of this book is the topic. The tenacles of government reach further and further into our lives. Governmental overreach today makes the New Deal programs of the 1930s look like libertarianism, by comparison. Republicans, and it is both the fault of Republican leaders and us–the voters, do or attempt very little to curb Statism. But even when it is hinted that a Republican might slightly oppose more, more, more regarding gov’mint programs, they get the ax at the polls.
This is why the foundations need to be rediscovered or rebuilt on the concept of opposing Statism. This book, and most likely the follow-up volume coming out later this year, is a gold mine for clear Christian political thinking.
Our Threatened Freedom: A Christian View on the Menace of American Statism by Rousas John Rushdoony, published by Chalcedon/Ross House Books, is another great read. This book, which came out in 2014, had an interesting origin. Originally, Dr. Rushdoony gave a series of short radio talks during the time between 1980 and 1983. The texts were in the mounds of writings still being sorted through and published by Rushdoony’s family and Chalcedon Foundation. However, Byron Snapp, a friend and long-time Christian leader at Calvary Reformed Presbyterian Church in Hampton, Virginia, still had the cassette recordings of these talks. Now, over 30 years old, these essays are still relevant to the issues surrounding us.
Rushdoony was a long-time foe of Statism. But he wasn’t like the such delightful anti-Statist curmudgeons as H. L. Mencken. Instead, Rushdoony’s passion was for a Godly Civil Order. He was driven by a commitment to God’s Law-Word in all areas of life. This book consists of some 155 very short essays, but they reflect themes and emphases that Rushdoony hammered away at in his dozens of books, hundreds of sermons, and scores of essays and lectures. As the Scottish Covenanters of old proclaimed, so proclaimed Rushdoony: “Christ, not man, is King.”
Rushdoony’s ideas have been examined in Michael McVicar’s book Christian Reconstruction: R. J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism, which I have reviewed in a previous post (with more to follow). Rushdoony was one of the most widely read men of all time. He basically read a book a day for decade after decade. He took careful notes, annotated his books, and stored a virtual warehouse full of knowledge in his mind. If Rushdoony didn’t remember something, he still had the books and the notes.
Rushdoony’s political philosophy was based primarily on his application of Cornelius Van Til’s presuppositional apologetics to Scripture. Basic to all of life, God is Sovereign and He has spoken in His Word. Since God is the center and foundation for every area of life and thought, all institutions have to submit to God and take their God-appointed places. Rushdoony borrowed from, but did not reproduce Abraham Kuyper’s concept of Sphere Sovereignty.
With the Bible as the grid, the touch stone, or foundation, Rushdoony assembled his political ideas from his reading of world and American history. He garned concepts from the Founding Fathers, from Federalists and Anti-Federalists, from conservatives, libertarians, Catholics, Protestants, Austrian economists, and real life experiences in the pastorate which ranged from an Indian reservation to several churches.
The advantage of these essays is their brevity. Also Rushdoony repeated and reinforced the same themes concerning freedom and opposing Statism. His then-current reading on the issues of the day would be used as springboards to the greater topic of freedom.
Thankfully, we can assemble whole bookshelves today full of books warning against Statism. Ideas have consequences, and we are experiencing the consequences of Statist ideas. There is a lot that Christians need to be doing, and fortifying our minds through books is a vital part of the process.