CrossPolitic and Keller the Cultural Communist

On Sunday I had the joy of being interviewed on the CrossPolitic programme – You can watch the whole programme here – (my part begins around the 26 minute mark).

 

I throughly enjoyed talking to these guys (although drinking malt from a mug is almost beyond the pale!)  and hope it is the beginning of a fruitful relationship, but I suspect that they might find that difficult.  The latter part of the show (when I was gone!) was largely a critique of Tim Keller and his ‘making peace with socialism’.   They asked what I thought – when I wasn’t there – so here is my answer. (sorry guys – but you did ask!).   I thought this article from Tim Keller in the New York Times was spot on.  But the stable from which CrossPolitic comes is of a somewhat different view.

Their Pastor, Doug Wilson was scathing about Keller….Prophetic or Political accusing him amongst other things of ‘cowardice’.  Why?  Because he didn’t mention abortion or Planned Parenthood.   He also stated “Socialism is theft. Christians who support it are supporting theft, and I am afraid Keller is among them.”

Tim Keller-√r
Karl Keller at work!

Of course, as with all Doug Wilsons work, this was well written, amusing and contained some good things.  I thought some of his critique was fair – but on the two points above he was not just OTT but wrong.  Firstly accusing someone of cowardice, who has made a stand in the midst of secular New York and seen the Gospel flourish and a significant difference being made, is not advisable – not least when you do so from the safe confines of your own community in Moscow, Idaho.    I know Tim Keller and he is no coward.  You can argue he was wrong.   You can argue he was unwise – but to accuse him of cowardice is not helpful.  It is also simplistic – was Jesus cowardly because he didn’t mention the Roman occupation or abortion in the sermon on the mount?

Carl Trueman has a good answer to those who accuse Keller of being a cultural Marxist – I loved this paragraph..

Let me be clear—while respecting him as a brother in Christ, I am not an acolyte of Rev. Keller. I disagree at points with both his theology and philosophy of ministry. Nor do I share his love of the city. For me, cities are a necessary evil whose sole purpose is to provide country boys like me somewhere to go to the theatre once in a while. And I am definitely not an optimistic transformationalist as he is—trust me, things are going to get worse before, well, they get even worse than that. But he is no cultural Marxist, and to call him such is to reveal not the politics of the good doctor but the ignorance of the troll. It is to indulge in the spirit of this age, which eschews thoughtful argument about difficult issues for moronic and often malicious soundbites. It is not a helpful way of locating him in current debates in order to further the discussion, but rather a cheap way of pre-emptively delegitimizing him and his opinions. It is an unwarranted slur on his character, for we all know that cultural Marxism is not intended as a morally neutral term. And—I almost forgot—it is to break the Ninth Commandment about a Christian brother. And that’s a sin—not so much a sin against Tim Keller as against the God he serves.

Wilson, who normally presents a thought out and carefully constructed argument, lets himself down with this rather simplistic ‘logic’.  Premise one – socialism is theft.  Premise two – Christians don’t steal.  Keller is a socialist therefore Keller is a thief.  The trouble is (apart from the crass, crude name calling) is that the whole argument is based on a false premise.  Socialism is not necessarily theft.  Its as though I said – Capitalism is murder.  Christians don’t murder.  Doug Wilson is a capitalist therefore he is a murderer.  Its a dumb argument- not least because I don’t know, and I don’t care whether Wilson is a Capitalist.    I do know that Tim is not a socialist….in fact he’s a bit right wing for my liking!   I guess it comes from mixing with all those New York bankers!  And in case you wonder – I don’t think capitalism is necessarily murder any more than I think that socialism is necessarily theft.

Rather than repeat all the arguments I refer you to two articles I wrote on this subject –

Is Socialism Satanic? – Why has the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals gone all Political?

Is Capitalism Satanic?

This quote answers Doug’s simplistic charge:

 Socialism is not stealing – unless you are prepared to say that all forms of taxation are stealing. If so, then you are of course going against Christ who said “Give to Caesar, the things that are Caesar’s.” So what Mr Phillips is really saying is that if you do not like what the government is using your money for then you just call it stealing. This strikes me as a somewhat illogical and cavalier way to use the Scripture as some kind of justification for your politics. We may disagree about what precisely the role of government is but that does not give us the right to claim that only our view is scriptural and all other views are evil. Defence, protecting the weak, punishing evil doers etc. are accepted by all but the most extremist libertarians. However, there has been a long Reformed tradition that argued that the role of government extends beyond that.

“Calvin saw civil government as an opportunity for good. Schools and roads could be provided to benefit both the rich and the poor. New hospitals and prisons were also a part of the social reforms he encouraged.” Gary Z Cole – John Calvin on Civil Government.
Imagine that. Calvin was for ‘Socialised Medicine! Besides which there is a far stronger case to argue that unfettered market capitalism, with its reliance on high interest rates (which always harm the poor most), is far more unbiblical.

Finally this from Keller’s NYT article sums up my position (as one of the Scottish Highland Presbyterians referred to).  Don’t de-Christianise those who disagree with your political viewpoints…and don’t make your political viewpoints the test of Christian orthodoxy.  The American church has largely gone down that route.  You have sown the wind and now you are reaping the whirlwind.

I know of a man from Mississippi who was a conservative Republican and a traditional Presbyterian. He visited the Scottish Highlands and found the churches there as strict and as orthodox as he had hoped. No one so much as turned on a television on a Sunday. Everyone memorized catechisms and Scripture. But one day he discovered that the Scottish Christian friends he admired were (in his view) socialists. Their understanding of government economic policy and the state’s responsibilities was by his lights very left-wing, yet also grounded in their Christian convictions. He returned to the United States not more politically liberal but, in his words, “humbled and chastened.” He realized that thoughtful Christians, all trying to obey God’s call, could reasonably appear at different places on the political spectrum, with loyalties to different political strategies.

CrossPolitic – loved being on your show….if you are still speaking to me happy to come back I’m game!

Engaging with Keller – A Review

 

 

19 thoughts on “CrossPolitic and Keller the Cultural Communist

  1. The problem conservatives have with socialized medicine and pretty much every other social program is the “ignorance” of the bureaucrats and politicians running them. The same reason you don’t want the EU’s heavy, intrusive hand in Scotland is the same reason why we don’t want socialism at all! I also find it illogical that you would point out the imperfections of capitalism as a justification for social programs. There is no perfect system in this fallen world, if a nation is post Christian then there will be corruption in both the free market and government in which both fail. If a nation is Christian and ethical then capitalism will do a great job serving the needs of the people while the Church would serve the needs of the poor, not the State.

  2. I listened to your interview on CrossPolitic and thought you were great by the way. What do you think about remarriage after divorce? To me it is the Trojan Horse brought into the Church that has opened the door to all kinds of sexual perversions in the Church and culture.

  3. What these guys are calling us to do, David,
    — whether they know it or not — is to put aside the overriding commission to be salt and light in the place where God has called us to be in order to parade their(ever-decreasing-circles) credentials. Theirs will seem to be very convincing arguments to some who live very far away from Moscow, Idaho but — to put it mildly — there is no support structure in Liverpool for someone who wants to make ‘Socialism is Theft’ a slogan to display the attraction of the gospel.

    And doesn’t sexual sin become an abomination only when it’s linked to idolatry? It’s certainly not helpful for evangelism when Stonewall, for example, tries to portray all kinds of homosexual activity as love-is-love, good-as-you respectability. Nor is it helpful, in my considered opinion, when we in turn lump every kind of damaging sexual behaviour into one amorphous mass and assume guilt of everything in all.

    It doesn’t matter how loudly a minister of the Gospel shouts his credentials into the wind, or how quietly. In the end it is as true now as it has ever been that ‘you will recognise them by their fruits …’ [Matt. 7:16a]. These will not be the last foreigners to think that Scots Presbyterianism must be free from all problems simply because of romantic notions of the good old days.

    [Ecclesiastes 7:10] Say not,’Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.

    Keep on.

    Yours,
    John/.

  4. Calvin’s (a nd the continental reformed tradition’s more broadly) view of the role of the state cannot be separated from their Erastian conception of the relationship between church and state. The Scottish Presbyterian church (not least in the Free Church!) has for a long time repudiated this conception. If you reject this conception, the grounding of most of their arguments loses force.

    In this connection, I’d quote the words of Louis Berkhof, who while from the continental tradition, was no Erastian:

    “It is to be feared that this function of the Church [of offering support to the poor] is sadly neglected in many of the churches to-day. There is a tendency to proceed on the assumption that it can safely be left to the State to provide even for the poor of the Church. But in acting on that assumption, the Church is neglecting a sacred duty, is impoverishing her own spiritual
    life, is robbing herself of the joy experienced in ministering to the needs of those who suffer want, and is depriving those who are suffering hardships, who are borne down by the cares of life, and who are often utterly discouraged, of the comfort, the joy, and the sunshine of the spiritual ministrations of Christian love, which are as a rule entirely foreign to the work of charity administered by the State.”

    1. I think you will find that Calvin was not as an Erastian and that the Free Church actually believed and believes in a close connection between church and state. This is known as the Establishment principle.

  5. God gave the state a role. It was to bear the sword, not change nappies. In its role to protect citizens government has the right to financial support to carry out its work. When the state taxes for anything but its God-given role, it is theft.

    It is theft because it compels me, at the point of a gun essentially, to give my money to other citizens (or even illegal immigrants). This money pays for abortions, buys votes, encourages and rewards teen pregnancy, illegal entry into my country, and countless other things I would be otherwise unwilling to fund with the work of my hands.

    Even where you might argue the state does “good” with the money it steals from me, it acts without biblical mandate, and it compels me to give to charity, again, at the point of a gun.

    1. Sorry, Brian,
      but that’s just wrong. It’s not taxation per se that’s theft but taxation without representation. You could just as easily conclude that philanthropy is theft because of the millions donated by some billionaires for exactly those causes you — and I for that matter — would rather not be associated with.

      Yours,
      John/.

      1. Hi John,

        Is there a percentage of your income that the state could require from you that would you consider theft? 80%? 90% 100%? Is there a point where it becomes theft or do you believe they can legitimately take up 100% of your income?

        Thanks,
        Adiel

      2. Hi, Adiel;
        forgive me for not answering your question by giving you a percentage where taxation becomes theft. Frankly, you ought to be disappointed in me if I were to do so: a righteous taxation system is not liable to make a sudden Jekyll-to-Hyde transformation when a line is crossed and anyway, there are IMHO better words than ‘theft’ to explain what might be going on.
        Consider the case of an explosive increase in the wealth of a nation where a few people have been able to take advantage of the circumstances to become very rich. If everyone benefits from the changes then there is no need for that income to be taxed at a higher rate than that of others; however it is sometimes the case that the newly rich have inadverently impoverished everyone else and the most equitable way of redressing the balance is corrective taxation.
        Consider then the opposite, where an oppressive state does demand 100% of the crop yield from a farming community. That isn’t simple theft; it’s downright genocidal.

        When we are dealing with a reasonably balanced tax system, the most effective way of using it to advance the cause of justice, seems to be the Libertarian/incremental way of giving the Economy a ‘nudge’ now and again. On the other hand: early 18th century London had an unsustainable death rate driven by the consumption of huge quantities of gin. The simple solution was the imposition of a gin tax which proved to be life-saving in its effect.

        There needs to be dialogue about taxation because there are pitfalls between which legislators need to pick a course and there is no one axiomatically-right answer. Accommodation of each other’s needs and aspirations is a good thing that is made almost impossible if we shut ourselves off from dialogue. Communication is obviously hampered or even thwarted by ‘noise’ in the system. Slogans like ‘Taxation is theft’ are noise in the system.

        Yours,
        John/.

      3. Good morning,

        I would love to interact with your very interesting examples (the life-saving tax on gin and a tax those who amass great wealth while inadvertently impoverishing everyone else), but first, if you don’t mind. I would appreciate your thoughts on the following scenario. Let’s say there’s a small community of a few hundred people who are self governed. If anyone were to approach one of their households with a gun demanding a certain percentage of their income, that would be robbery/extortion, right? I think you will agree with me so far. Here’s my question: let’s say a gang of men were to approach the community and implement their dominance over them, declaring that particular terriroty their turf, and they send men with guns to everyone’s houses demanding a certain percentage of their monthly income. Would this be robbery/extortion? Or does the fact that it’s an organized gang of men change the nature of what is transpiring?

        Thanks again,

      4. My thoughts, Adiel,
        run somewhat along the following lines.
        • I have always had an adverse reaction to leading questions, for which I apologise: you weren’t to know or you might not have done it.
        • This sounds awfully like the scenario presented up above by thatBrian, where his repeated complaint about money being taken ‘at the point of a gun’ was a reference to taxation.
        • We pay taxes and vote for representatives to prevent organised gangs of men terrorising neighbourhoods, however isolated they might be.
        • I don’t understand the paranoia of otherwise reasonable people in a functioning democracy who insist that they must be individually armed in case their elected government turns against them.
        • Even bailiffs expect to be able to go about their business here without them having to carry firearms so it’s hard to imagine either state or outlaw acting or even being able to act in the way you describe.
        Yours,
        John/.

  6. Thanks for your response.

    Here is what I have trouble understanding. In my scenario we start with self-governed people (no state government) who are being robbed by an organized gang of men. At what point does the robbery become legitimate? Let’s say that instead of an outside gang it is actually 30% of the community who decide they want a government so they elect some leaders. And now it is this newly elected gang that goes around demanding the community for a percentage of their income. What if 70% of the people didn’t sign up for this government, are they being robbed, or is it just “taxes”? What if 90% of the community are on board with newly elected gang, are the minority being extorted? At what point does the property of free people become the property of the government in power?

    I honestly, perhaps naively, cannot conjure up a scenario where a government can lay claim to people’s income/property without each individual voluntarily giving up without being threatened with violence. I think I just start with the assumption that your stuff is your stuff and the only way to get at your stuff is with your voluntary (not coerced) agreement. I think the reason thatBrian mentions “money being taken at the point of the gun” is because that is what will happen if you don’t pay your income tax. But that’s the question, how do we get from point A (you own 100% of your income) to point B (the government owns a certain percentage of your income) without violating people’s property rights?

    To be clear, as a Christian I believe in turning the other cheek and giving your coat to the one who demands your shirt. I think paying your taxes is a form of turning the other cheek. So yeah, Christians should definitely, and gladly even, pay their taxes/ turn the other cheek! But that doesn’t mean that striking people on the cheek is a good thing.

    Would love your help in thinking through this. Where is my understanding flawed on this?

    1. People in the United Kingdom who refuse to pay their taxes will be arrested, Adiel,
      but we pride ourselves that it is not done at the point of a gun. That aside, I don’t understand the concept of owning money — it’s not as though it is a real thing — so maybe all you have to do is think of it for what it is; which is a means of exchange.
      Yours,
      John/.

      1. Well the point is about owning anything. It’s about your property being your property and it being evil for anyone to demand your property using threats of force. Think about what you just said. People in the UK who refuse to pay their taxes are taken by force and, I’m assuming, if they refuse to give up their property, locked up in a cage. What happens if the caged person attempt to escape? Ultimately, at some point, I’m assuming, guns will be drawn against them. How is this not a violation of someone’s property rights (right to life, liberty, property)? It seems to me like it is. I know that God sovereignly ordains the powers that be and we are to submit to them. And yet we also know that everything that happens is ordained by God, even evil. So my question is at what point does a gang of robbers become legitimate? At what point does it become OK for a gangg of men to threaten an individual with force if he doesn’t hand over his property? I mean, am I wrong to assume it’s his property to begin with? Did it always ultimately belong to the group?

      2. The concept of owning money: your labor has a certain value (whatever you’re able to get for it). the idea is that you offer another person your labor and they give you a placeholder, let’s say $100, that represents your labor. So what you just did is trade your labor for that placeholder with the idea that you can trade that placeholder for someone else’s labor. I think that’s in general the idea of “owning money”. You own your labor which you can trade for “money” which you can trade for some one else’s labor. For someone to own a percentage of your money is for them to own a percentage of your
        labor.

      3. If, Adiel,
        we owned the money we use, there would be nothing to stop us from printing more of it as we wanted to. The autonomous central bank that can control the money supply on behalf of the state while keeping the levers out of the hands of here today, gone tomorrow politicians, is a concept that has emerged in Western democracies, demonstrably for the good of all. In turn we are able to scrutinise their stewardship of our money and have the social duty to be good stewards of what is entrusted to us. Making money work is a cooperative effort.
        Yours,
        John/.

      4. Let me see if I understand what you’re saying. If I agree to trade my labor for $50 (eg I agree to mow your lawn for $50), the moment my work is done and you give me the $50, I don’t actually own the $50, I’m just a steward of what the state has entrusted to me? So what exactly do I own in this scenario? Did I own my own labor? It sounds like I didn’t even own my labor. It seems to me like if I owned my labor then I should also own whatever I trade for it. If I trade my labor for two apples, those two apples are mine, and if I trade it for $50 then that $50 is mine. It sounds like you’re saying the state owns my labor and whatever I trade for it.

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