Conventional wisdom tells us that neither political side has a corner on the Christian faith. Christians should not pledge allegiance to any political party, but evaluate issues individually and vote on candidates individually. Some Christians will naturally fall toward more conservative positions, and some toward more liberal positions. But at the end of the day, politics must not divide us because our opinions on political matters are less important and less clear from Scripture than what we share in common as believers in Christ.
I largely agree with this conventional wisdom, and I think it applies to a large number of specific political questions we face today. Although I seek to apply biblical wisdom, insofar as I can, to complex political issues such as healthcare, police reform, and taxation, I have no interest in imposing one specific model for each of these issues on my fellow believers and ruling out all other opinions as sub-Christian. I wouldn’t want other believers to do that to me either. Christians have always lived together with different opinions, and we must continue to do so.
But when it comes to larger political philosophies (as opposed to narrowly focused issues), I believe Christians have a moral obligation to formulate a political philosophy that is conservative as opposed to progressive. These differing philosophies reflect divergent views of humanity and the nature of earthly politics.
Conservatism begins with a posture of gratitude for what has been received from the past. Conservatives recognize that we do not live in a perfect world; nevertheless, we stand on the shoulders of past generations whose sacrifices have made possible our present existence and opportunity. We do not scoff at their sacrifice, but instead seek to honor them by preserving the good they handed down to us, while at the same time improving on it by our own advancements in wisdom. Scientists today know far more about the physical universe than did Sir Isaac Newton, but that is because normal people can see farther than the giants on whose shoulders they stand. In the same way, civilizations progress by building on the wisdom of the past.
Progressivism, on the other hand, does not begin with gratitude but with grievance. It regards the past as inherently immoral and intolerable, and thus formulates the political goal of destroying all relics from the past in order to create a new order of the future. The mobs destroying statues across our country the last several weeks are simply acting out the progressive philosophy they have been taught in their grievance studies classes. They hate America and all that it stands for, assuming that they have the ability to create something better.
Having created the world, God created man to rule over it as his image, stewarding creation in his name. Although creation in the beginning was “very good” (Gen. 1:31), God nevertheless gave to our first parents a mandate to fill the earth and subdue it, drawing out the latent potential in this world to make it a holy dwelling place of God with man (Gen. 1:28). Man was created, in other words, first to receive what came from outside of himself in gratitude so that he could make it better. Man’s proper role is that of a grateful steward, gladly acknowledging his limits yet striving by God’s power to advance what he has received. This is essentially the philosophy of conservatism.
Progressivism, on the other hand, gives man the role of destroyer and re-Creator. Rather than receiving with gratitude what has been given to us from the past, progressives argue that we must destroy it and create something entirely new. Assuming that we can produce utopia on earth, they attribute to our generation the god-like powers of bringing the eschatological glory of the age to come into the present. In doing so, progressives fail to acknowledge humanity’s limits, which consequently implies the inherent limits of earthly politics. Progressivism dispels gratitude, humility, and patience and cultivates their opposites.
We cannot create a new world. We must receive in thanksgiving the one we have and do the best we can as stewards of it, all the while praying for God’s kingdom to come by the power of Heaven at Christ’s return. The Christian faith does not allow us to pursue the folly of progressivism.
This essay first appeared on my site, pastoralapprenticeship.com