There is little doubt that the last year has been one of the most contentious political phases in our nation’s history. Thus it is no surprise that all sorts of Christian stock phrases about politics have been used and reused.
One of my favorites is the phrase, “Jesus is neither a Democrat nor a Republican.” This is one of those phrases that is used so frequently that no one really bothers to ask what it means; nor does anyone bother to ask whether it is really true.
So, I want to analyze this phrase in our 10th and final installment in the “Taking Back Christianese” series. Rather than following the standard structure for this series, I simply want to ask what people might mean by this phrase (and whether what they mean makes sense). Here are some options:
1. The phrase could simply mean that the Bible doesn’t speak to politics.
I suppose one possible interpretation of this phrase is that it means that the Bible doesn’t address political issues; it is simply silent on this matter. The Bible is only interested in redemptive issues and should not be made to determine which political views are right.
But, is that an accurate portrayal of the Bible? Sure, we can agree that the Bible doesn’t use the terms “Democrat” or “Republican,” nor does it make statements like “you should vote for the political party that….” But, that doesn’t mean the Bible provides no principles or guidance on how to evaluate a political party.
Indeed, as Van Til once said, “The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything. We do not mean that it speaks of football games, of atoms, etc., directly, but we do mean that it speaks of everything either directly or by implication.”
Thus, there is no reason to think the Bible cannot address political issues. To suggest otherwise is tantamount to suggesting the Bible cannot address the question of evolution because “it is not a science book” (to use another cliché). The problem with such an argument is that it only allows the Bible to speak to so-called “religious” issues and not “secular” ones.
However, the Bible itself does not honor this religious-secular distinction—all the world is God’s and he has a say over everything in it. Moreover, almost every political issue has an ethical dimension to it. And surely the Bible speaks to ethics. Thus, we cannot say that political issues are “off the table” when it comes to what the Bible teaches.
2. The phrase could simply mean that neither political party lines up entirely with what the Bible teaches.
Another interpretation of this phrase is that it is simply another way of saying that neither party is perfect; both have their problems. And that is certainly the case. But surely no one would dispute this. No human institution is perfect this side of the Fall (including the church!). To state such a thing doesn’t really advance the discussion—it is simply stating a truism.
Even if both parties are flawed to some degree, the real question still remains, namely which political party is the closest to the principles and ethics laid out in Scripture? After all, at the end of the day, the Christian still has to go to the polls and vote for someone. And surely he wants to vote for the party that is closest to the teachings of Scripture.
My suspicion therefore, is that this phrase is not being used just to say that both parties are flawed; rather it is really being used to say that both parties are equally flawed. And if both parties are equally flawed then someone can claim that it doesn’t really matter how we vote. Everyone is off the hook and political debating (at least on a biblical basis) should just stop.
But, if someone is going to make such a claim then they have to do the heavy exegetical lifting to prove their case. A cliché is not enough to demonstrate that both political parties are equally flawed.
Moreover, I think the claim that both parties are equally flawed is highly problematic when one considers that Democrats and Republicans have near opposite political platforms on almost every major issue. Is it really likely that there would be two parties with nearly opposite values and ethical positions and, at the same time, neither would be closer to the teachings of Scripture? I suppose it is possible. But, is also very unlikely.
3. The phrase could simply mean that there are good Christians who are both Democrats and Republicans.
I suppose one could interpret the phrase “Jesus is neither a Democrat nor a Republican” as just another way of saying that there are Christians, good Christians, who are Democrats and Republicans. And I certainly would agree.
The problem, however, is that an implication is usually drawn from this fact, namely that there is no right or wrong way to vote. If Christians are on both sides of the political spectrum, it is argued, then neither political party must be better than another.
But, once again, this line of reasoning just doesn’t work. The fact that there are Christians who have differing positions on an issue does not mean the Scripture supports both positions equally (which would be contradictory if you think about it), nor does it mean the Scriptures are necessarily unclear about the issue.
After all, there are “good Christians” who are Arminians, and there are “good Christians” who are Calvinists. But, this does not constitute grounds for saying they are both right, or that it doesn’t matter, or that one cannot know such things. That type of attitude is more due to the influence of postmodernity—where there is no one right view—than it is due to historic and biblical Christianity.
The fact that there are Christians in a political party different from our own certainly means we should show them charity, love, and respect—after all they are brothers and sisters in Christ! But, it does not therefore mean we throw our hands up in the air and say that politics doesn’t matter or that the Bible has nothing to say about such things.
4. This phrase could simply mean that Jesus would never join a political party or that he would never have allegiance to a political party.
This particular understanding of the phrase is designed to do away with the notion that God is “for” one political party and “against” another. No political party can be regarded as God’s party. Thus, we can vote for whomever we want as Christians because God does not wear a lapel pin of a donkey or an elephant.
Now, some of this is certainly true. God does not align himself with man-made political parties in the sense that he endorses everything about them. And the reason he cannot endorse everything about a particular party is because no party is perfect. They are all flawed to one degree or another.
But, this just brings us back to the issues we raised in #2 above. Just because both parties are flawed does not mean that both parties are equally flawed. Still remaining is the important task of determining which party is closest to the ethics, principles and values of Scripture.
So, just because God does not (and cannot) unequivocally endorse either party is not the same thing as saying that it doesn’t matter which party we vote for. Some parties (and some views) are more pleasing to God than others.
So, where does this whole discussion leave us? The four options above are not exhaustive—I suppose there are other options about what this phrase might mean. But, at least as it pertains to the options discussed here, I would argue that this phrase is highly problematic. Each of the possible meanings above suffers from the same fatal flaw: all of them are trying to find a way to make politics a neutral affair for Christians.
Whether it’s the argument that the Bible doesn’t address politics (option #1), or that political parties are equally flawed (option #2), or that good Christians disagree (option #3), or that God cannot fully endorse a particular party (#4), all these arguments are trying to say it doesn’t matter what political views Christians support.
But, as I have argued above, this is a shockingly unchristian approach. It is almost suggesting there is a place in the world (even an ethical place!) where God has no concern about the direction we take. This stands in sharp contrast to the historical (and Reformed) Christian position outlined by Abraham Kuyper: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”
So, if the “Jesus is neither a Democrat nor a Republican” approach is flawed, where do we go from here? I would suggest a different course of action. Rather than spending our energies trying to keep the Bible out of politics, we should work to let it back in. What I mean by this is that we need to stop telling Christians that whatever voting choice they make is as equally valid as another, and instead we should encourage them to apply Scripture to these political questions just like we apply it to every other area of life (whether it be economics, art, or medicine).
No doubt this will create debate and disagreement about whether Democrats are closer to biblical principles or whether Republicans are closer to biblical principles (or whether another party is closer!). But that’s Ok. Christians debate Calvinism vs. Arminianism, Credo-Baptism vs. paedo-Baptism, home school vs. public school education, and beyond.
A vigorous, deep, and thorough debate about what the Bible teaches about politics would be a refreshing change from the postmodern “no political position is better than any other” approach currently en vogue in the modern church.
At least then the focus is in the right place: what the Bible teaches.
Thanks, Dr. Kruger. I wholeheartedly agree.
Daniel Rowlands says
Therefore, since the Bible teaches about politics, what are your thoughts on the Noahic Covenant as a paradigm for politics in the common kingdom–i.e. as a paradigm for the role of government?
Secondly, what are your thoughts on confessional teaching regarding the role of government (e.g. Westminster Confession of Faith Chap. 23)?
Brandon Adams says
I prefer the same argument that I use to defend the Bible’s apparent skipping-over of slavery. God doesn’t condone it; he is just fiercely committed to being ABOVE all things, and he refuses to let us drag the dialogue downwards into earthly complaints. He insists that we set our eyes on things above and rely on him, not circumstances, for our strength.
Rosie Ganzel says
This is the best commentary I have ever read on politics. Thanks Dr. Krueger.
By the way, my husband and I have been going through your study on Romans. We are in Part 2. This is one of the best studies we have ever done. Thanks so much for generously making it available at no cost.
I love your teaching.
Charle Roberts says
Among other things, you wrote:…”that Democrats and Republicans have near opposite political platforms on almost every major issue…” I submit this is just as much a meaningless cliche as the one being critiqued. Party platforms are largely meaningless. What matters is what political parties actually do in practice. Both parties basically are ok with abortion, homosexuality, government controlled education, unconstitutional wars of conquest, corporately controlled government…the list goes on. It appears that back of the objection to the phrase “neither Democrat nor Republican” is the voting preference of choosing “lesser evil” over greater. This is the phony paradigm ginned up by those in power to insure that Christians will do their civic duty and “throw the bad guys out of office,” when in reality, nothing really changes. This proves that the truly disadvantaged are those who continue to play the game against opponents who long ago abandoned the rules. The result is what you have now, a decadent, evil culture that continues to spiral into ever more evil. But that, after all, is what you’ve chosen, only just a bit “less” of it.
Spot on! Whichever way one votes, one’s conscience cannot be at peace. Evil is still evil, whatever the degree.
chris hutchinson says
I think some of the thinking on this comes from the Biblical data that Jesus called two of His apostles from two apparently different political camps — Matthew the tax collector (tolerant of Roman occupation), and Simon the Zealot (strongly opposed to Roman occupation). But this is a picture of the Church, the alternative counter-culture community that Christ came to create — a holy Kingdom within the larger kingdoms of this world to which the Apostles still belonged, with Christ-informed responsibilities towards both realms. And that is why we also have texts in the NT to help us navigate this apparent tension, such as I Cor. 5, Rom. 13, I Pet. 2, Philemon, Rev. 2-3, etc.
But, per the above, as we make our best political judgments, it is critical to remember that that which is seen is temporary, while that which is unseen is eternal. There ought to be a priority of place for the Christian towards the salvation of souls. It stands to reason, since earthly politics is temporary, while souls last forever. Surely, that is part of what some people mean by this phrase, it seems to me, faulty as it may be. Thanks, Dr. Kruger, as always, for such thoughtful articles.
” After all, at the end of the day, the Christian still has to go to the polls and vote for someone.” The Christian can vote. The Christian does not have to vote. The entire article implies Christians are under a biblical obligation to vote and affiliate with political parties.
Great article. Can I quibble about one thing? “the Bible itself does not honor this religious-secular distinction—all the world is God’s and he has a say over everything in it.”
Scripture does lay down a sacred-secular distinction but while politics are not religious, they are most definitely ethical. As believers we do need to think on this world with a renewed mind which entails recognizing politics as not being part of the kingdom and therefore secular. God’s having “blessed” America is common grace as providential Creator, not salvific “in Christ” as Father (Eph 1:3).
I think that’s a good point. The larger issue is that we need to think about all things through biblical categories and apply biblical principles to all of life. Having a biblical worldview should impact how we think about everything. I think the secular/sacred distinction that Dr. Kruger is talking about is one that asserts the Bible has nothing to say about how we approach something that can be deemed secular (i.e. compartmentalizing things such that we draw lines where “the Bible has something to say” and where “the Bible does not have anything to say”).
I think, as I understand it, the distinction you make about common vs. salvific grace is valid precisely because it is a biblical one, which is the guide we ought to intentionally use to order our thinking about everything.
Steve Foley says
Interesting article, however think one more area to consider when making the statement “Jesus is neither a Democrat nor Republican”, is to ask who made the statement? Surely, God loves us all, but there is something to be said for God blessing those you bless Him. I certainly think any sincere Christian should examine the history and current policy of either of the political parties, and understand, there are “low down dirty skunks” associated with both parties, but whatever party has their values lined up with what our Lord teaches is probably who we as Christians should support. However, to get back to my point, when someone who is clearly not a Christian, perhaps even worships at the church of fame, money, politics or other replacement gods. Perhaps we should ask why are they trying to influence my vote. perhaps it is to confuse us and make it easier for the non-Christian candidate to win election. I personally honestly believe whenever I have heard the phrase used, it comes from a Democrat, trying to justify a non Christian position for their candidate.
First of all good explanation of all points yet I think that as a Christian we should vote as independents or NPA(no party affiliation) and vote for the best candidate that lines up with Christian principals and morals along with Christian policies. That’s my thought on the issue of Jesus is neither Democrat or Republican.