Five Christian Ideas That Promote Political Moderation: Part 1

Introduction

Many American Christians show an increasing affinity for radical politics. Many of these, dissatisfied with lawless excess and social decay, are more inclined to a politics of the far right, though not exclusively.1 While some on the left write books condemning America for her irredeemable systemic racism, others on the right pen impatient books or essays supporting “Christian nationalism,”2 Protestant Francoism,3 or Catholic integralism.4

In contrast to those tempted by the siren song of radical politics, I argue that Christian ethics, rightly understood, encourages political moderation.5 But what is political moderation? It will be helpful to consider the work of political theorists who in recent years have given greater attention to the study of the topic, a development that emerged in part as a response to growing polarization and political tension. One of the leading theorists to think seriously about moderation is Aurelian Craiutu, a professor at Indiana University, Bloomington. According to Craiutu, rather than an unprincipled, weak political position lying somewhere between two partisan platforms, political moderation is “a bold creed” that can be professed by “diverse actors on all sides of the political spectrum” who wish “to promote necessary social and political reforms, defend liberty, and keep the ship of the state on an even keel.”6 Moderation also, Craiutu argues, is “a tolerant and civil virtue related to temperance and opposed to violence,” opposing “pride, one-sidedness, intolerance, and fanaticism in our moral and political commitments.”7 As such, the political moderate often wishes to cool passions and encourage discussion.8 For if in the interest of bringing one’s goods to harbor, one sinks the ship of state by refusing to compromise and get along with others, it is difficult not to conclude that radical politics are worse than useless. The political moderate recognizes that the means—law and procedural norms—are not obstacles to ends, but are almost invariably necessary companions of them.9

It goes without saying that some versions of Christianity—such as many of the Puritans, the sixteenth-century radicals of the Anabaptist churches, and some actors of high medieval Europe—were certainly not political moderates. This essay assumes that such examples are deviations from the true political attitude consequent to the Christian faith.

In this essay, I do not mean to break new ground so much as to point out basic ideas in Christian thought which may seem mundanely obvious to some, but which to others may seem surprising, for through their attitudes and actions they have either forgotten or never learned them.

While the reasons for Christianity’s moderating impulse are many, this two-part series considers just five of the most important. We will consider three Christian ideas conducive to political moderation in part one, leaving the other two for the second installment.

Five Christian Ideas

 An Eternal Perspective

The Christian has an eternal perspective. Therefore, under the mind-bending weight of eternity, the political is relativized, even if it is also deeply important. After all, there is only one eternal kingdom, and that kingdom “shall never be destroyed” and “shall stand forever” (Dan 2:44). It is this kingdom that Christians look to as their true homeland, for “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb 13:14). While we may have a citizenship here of which we can and ought to make good use (Acts 25), the Christian’s true citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20). All of this suggests that the deepest allegiances of the Christian should be to the one eternal Zion and not to the political orders of the day, for our struggle is not against flesh and blood (Eph 6:12), and Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).

Probably no one in church history expressed this better than did Augustine. In his magnum opus, The City of God, he repeatedly returned to a theme introduced at the end of the very first chapter, namely, that of eternal souls now on pilgrimage through “this brief life.”10

Pilgrims and Exiles

Patriotic service and affection is certainly permissible and in most cases, I would submit, obligatory, falling under the ethic of the fifth commandment.11 And yet, the Christian’s identity is fundamentally that of a pilgrim and an exile (1 Pet 1:17; 2:11)—someone passing through a land not their own. This language of pilgrim and exile directs the reader back to Old Testament paradigms such as that found in Jeremiah 29. There, God directs the faithful to a diligent (if modest) participation in the political order of Babylon. They are directed to marry and to have children, to build homes, and to contribute to the welfare of Babylon, for their welfare will be found in Babylon’s welfare. Two radical alternatives are conspicuous by their omission: surrender in the form of some type of monastic withdrawal or revolution in the form of either violence or theocratic transformation.

In the early years of Christianity, believers lived with the constant possibility of persecution. They did not write much about politics, because they did not have the luxury of doing so.12 Most of the extant writings of the ante-Nicene fathers in the generation immediately following the Apostles were documents that remonstrated against heresy or otherwise encouraged Christians facing persecution. To the extent that they were political in nature, they defended Christians for being good citizens.

In the second-century Epistle to Diognetus, we read that Christians,

dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners; they share the life of citizens, they endure the lot of foreigners; every foreign land is to them a fatherland, and every fatherland a foreign land. They marry like the rest of the world, they beget children, but they do not cast their offspring adrift. . . . They spend their existence upon earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, but in their own lives they surpass the laws.13

We see embedded here another principle stemming from our status as pilgrims: it is desirable that we live, insofar as possible, at peace with all people (Rom 12:18), that we might live godly and quiet lives (I Tim 2:2).

For this reason, in one of the most well-known portions of The City of God (Book XIX), Augustine argued that the Christian church ought to “enjoy” the peace of the earthly city “in this life,” because as long as Christians make pilgrimage through this life, they also enjoy the peace of “Babylon,” which makes it possible to lead a quiet life and to worship God.14 But of course, in making use of the peace of the “earthly city,” Augustine (citing Jer 29), argued that the Christian “lives like a captive and a stranger in the earthly city,” and that the “heavenly city, then, while it sojourns on earth, calls citizens out of all nations, and gathers together a society of pilgrims of all languages, not scrupling about diversities in the manners, laws, and institutions whereby earthly peace is secured and maintained.”15 Captives, strangers, pilgrims! These are the words Augustine used to describe Christians living in the world.

Yet he did not conclude from this that Christians should not be involved in politics. Instead, by theory and precept in The City of God and through example in his many personal letters, Augustine demonstrated that Christians ought to think carefully about political matters. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Augustine’s place in church history will be aware that some of his early writing cannot be described as politically moderate insofar as some of it argued for the use of force to compel heretics to see the error of their ways. In general, however, Augustine’s mature political thought put political efforts in a more appropriate perspective.

Both Augustine and the anonymous author of the Epistle to Diognetus believed that Christians are strangers in this world; Christians should “put no confidence in princes” (Ps 146:3), but only in God.

Truth—Not Power

A basic part of all decent civil law is that the punishment should be commensurate with the crime. For example, crimes carried out intentionally are appropriately deemed greater in the severity of transgression and punishment than are crimes resulting from negligence. It is not right that my livestock escaped pasture and trampled an innocent pedestrian because I allowed my fence to fall into dereliction; but premeditated murder is far worse.

This matters for our purposes, for when wrongs are committed with intent, the human heart burns with passion for vengeance. But if something goes awry because of negligence or incompetence, or because of no ill-intended reason at all, the response of our emotions is different. One provokes a hot response; another elicits a more measured, tempered, and moderate response. For this reason, the Christian ought to be sure that a conspiracy exists before responding with the sort of passion appropriate to discovering an evil plan.

The good news here is that the Christian can often know, simply by applying reason and wisdom. I say “simply,” but it must be granted that it is not always simple. It is often possible, however, and that is where the Christian parts ways with the radical. Of course, Truth itself is a person (John 14:6), and our capacity to know lesser things is because he has given us reason and wisdom.

Against Thrasymachus of Plato’s Republic who contended that justice is “the advantage of the stronger,” the Christian sides with Socrates by insisting upon the reality of truth, and of justice and injustice.16 While power may explain some part of politics, it does not explain everything. Some people really do act because they desire civil justice or because they wish to help others. Not all actions are reducible to material gain (as for a Marxist), and not all political phenomena can be explained by a mysterious cabal of elites seeking to oppress the common people (as for some people you may know). The reduction of politics to power produces a disregard for getting at the truth—which in the view of some people does not exist—corrupting politics itself, as well as education, liberty, justice, and order along the way. The Christian should be different. (I heartily recommend Carl Trueman’s Histories and Fallacies, which although an introduction to historiographical thinking, could also serve as a helpful primer to anyone wanting to think more carefully about various claims sometimes said by the incredulous to be conspiracy theories.)17

Because something in addition to power exists in social relations, the Christian is free to see in the political arena something other than conspiracy. To be clear, if a conspiracy theory is true, then it is not just a theory. There is a battle to be fought against unseen forces, as the apostle Paul makes clear. The fact is, however, that most of the time incompetence explains much more than conspiracy; but incompetence is rather less exciting than a story that tracks well with background music from Unsolved Mysteries or the X-Files. Many Germans after the Great War wanted to explain the surrender of Versailles by blaming civilians, politicians in the Weimar Republic, Jewish people—anyone but the army that lost to the might of the combined allied forces.18 And today, many people want to explain lights in the sky or on grainy flight videos as E.T., when the boring truth may well be that they just do not have a security clearance to know what the USAF or Raytheon are up to.

Where Michel Foucault insisted that every political order has its own “regime of truth”19 in which truth and politics are collapsed in on one another, shrouding the human mind indefinitely from the possibility of knowing what is true, the Christian must insist that truth is objective and that it can (usually) be ascertained by reason, even if oppressive regimes may at times put obstacles in the way. Indeed, the Christian faith is rooted in the ability to know historical truth, rooted, as the Apostles’ Creed is, in historical propositions: “Born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered Under Pontius Pilate, Was Crucified, Dead, and Buried, On the Third Day He Rose Again from the Dead.” To use a remarkable example of postmodern skepticism I have been hearing more and more in the past two years, consider the moon landing: If we cannot know whether a man landed on the Moon in 1969, can we possibly hope to have any rational grounds upon which to affirm the resurrection of Jesus Christ?

Conclusion

Christians have an eternal perspective, and they are pilgrims in this world. They also believe that truth and justice exist. This means they need not see behind every news headline a conspiratorial plot, as would a radical of left or right who, after having rejected the very possibility of truth, fills the remaining vacuum with power.

In the next and final part of this series, we will consider two additional Christian ideas that foster political moderation: biblical anthropology and the Christian understanding of hope.

Notes

  1. For an enlightening assessment of the ideological features of “far right” politics, see Matthew Rose, A World After Liberalism: Five Thinkers Who Inspired the Radical Right (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2021). A helpful center-left thinker who critiques radical politics both on “left” and “right” is Mark Lilla. See his The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction (New York: New York Review of Books, 2016), and The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics (New York: New York Review of Books, 2001).
  2. Shane Lems, “Review: The Case for Christian Nationalism, By Stephen Wolfe,Heidelblog, 15 February 2024.
  3. Josh Abbotoy, “Is a Protestant Franco Inevitable?,” First Things, 6 October, 2023.
  4. James Patterson, “After Republican Virtue,” Law & Liberty, 22 April 2022.
  5. The argument of this essay aligns, at least in most respects, with well known Reformed authors who have written on the subject. For helpful readable sources on what it means to think as a Christian about political and social involvement, see Michael Horton, Recovering Our Sanity: How the Fear of God Conquers the Fears that Divide Us (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Reflective, 2022), and David VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2010).
  6. Aurelian Craiutu, Faces of Moderation: The Art of Balance in an Age of Extremes (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), 16.
  7. Craiutu, Faces of Moderation, 16. See also Paul Carrese, Democracy in Moderation: Montesquieu, Tocqueville, and Sustainable Liberalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), John G. Grove, “Conservative Wisdom or New-Right Dreams?,” The Public Discourse, August 28, 2023, and John G. Grove, “The Post-Liberal Politics of Faith,” National Affairs, vol. 58, Winter 2024. Another political theorist who has written thoughtfully on political moderation is Lauren Hall, who recently started a Substack on the theme, “The Radical Moderate’s Guide to Life.” For my own brief reflections on the meaning of political moderation, see William Reddinger, “John Dickinson and the Moderation of Constitutional Balance,” Online Library of Liberty, December 7, 2023; “Tocqueville, Washington, and the Moderation of the American Revolution,” Online Library of Liberty, June 15, 2023; and “Washington’s Address to the Officers of the Army,” Online Library of Liberty, February 23, 2023.
  8. Craiutu, Faces of Moderation, 21.
  9. Craiutu, Faces of Moderation, 27–33. It is important also to observe that Craiutu argues that political moderation does not mean there is never a time for exceptional politics that deviate temporarily from the rule of law and procedural norms; however, this is very much the exception, and such times often serve to return to those norms. See Craiutu, Faces of Moderation, 21–23. Another factor at play in this matter is that it is partly due to the Christian’s commitment to truth and principle that some consider moderation to be out of bounds. Craiutu, for example, points out that political moderation will inevitably seem to some people to be a kind of betrayal, because “sometimes people are unwilling and psychologically unable to compromise . . . and any view that is more moderate may seem to them as a betrayal of their beliefs.” See Craiutu, Faces of Moderation, 25.
  10. Augustine, The Works of Aurelius Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, Volume I: The City of God, trans. Marcus Dods (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1871), I.1.
  11. See Westminster Larger Catechism, 126–129.
  12. A helpful introduction to the political teaching of the patristics appears in Greg Forster, The Contested Public Square: The Crisis of Christianity and Politics (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2008).
  13. The Epistle to Diognetus, trans. L. B. Radford (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1908), V.1–10.
  14. Augustine, The City of God, XIX.26.
  15. Augustine, XIX.17.
  16. Plato, Republic, 338c2–3.
  17. Carl R. Trueman, Histories and Fallacies: Problems Faced in the Writing of History (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2010). Trueman’s discussion of Holocaust denial near the beginning of the book is worth the price of the whole. An even more basic read that may be a helpful introduction to understanding things such as Marxist interpretations of history and human behavior is Trueman’s Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2010).
  18. For more on this, see Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties, rev. ed. (New York: Harper Perennial, 2010), and William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1961).
  19. Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972–1977 (New York: Vintage, 1980).

©Bill Reddinger. All Rights Reserved.

You can find this whole series here. 


RESOURCES

Heidelberg Reformation Association
1637 E. Valley Parkway #391
Escondido CA 92027
USA
The HRA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization


Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


13 comments

  1. This is great advice and a good start to a much needed conversation. I look forward to future posts. Christians must always think and act like Christians…..Jesus is our example and the Word of God is our only guide.

    I must add, however, that calling for moderation when one’s nation, constitution, liberty, history, currency, and even faith are under attack (literally, not figuratively) is akin to calling for moderation in the midst of heated battle. I’m not speaking hyperbolically; These United States of America are under full attack from a Globalist Establishment hell-bound to create a Satanic New World Order and by a Fifth Column of American political and business class working in full concert with them. At the risk of being branded “far-right” (which I am not….I am more of a pragmatic idealist taking the best from both the right and left), I must encourage those of you that do not understand just how pointed this attack is to spend some time learning the history of this movement. It is not conspiracy, it is a well laid out plan nearing consummation, the details of which can be learned by anyone with enough gumption to study.

    • Thank you Jerry! Finally, a highly pertinent Christian response to ‘our times!’ Even my wife is difficult w/comprehending and in studying our times, as well as activating for our times.
      At the expense of possibly ‘sounding’ arrogant (or whathaveyou), I’ve been studying and following our times very closely, to say the least! I too care highly about serving Christ our Lord AND our USA, Constitution, etcetera. I intend to not let up one wee bit in our ‘Fight/obedience’ to Christ, His Most Holy Word! My God already, do we not ‘fight for what’s Right, hate what God hates, AND come against evil?!’✝️📖🛐👍😊😡

      • Just concluded reading the last half of Bill Reddinger’s great article above and found it fascinating, in fact! Thank you!
        Reading your comments c/o Mr Augustine and his “City of God” is fantastic! I’m currently reading it (1/3 thru), as well as Calvin’s Institutes (1/4 thru) and am enjoying and learning immensely more. Also, I love how often Calvin mentions Augustine w/such commendable respect and in agreement! Learning more about Mr Carl Trueman, also. I’d welcome any and all recommendations of his writings!
        I’ll be 75 very soon, truly love how our Gracious Lord has placed within me the sincerious (🤔) desire to read, read, read! Gods Most Holy Word, as well as so many Masterpieces of great Christian writers and authors in existence! Thank You, Lord!
        Also, I’d greatly appreciate my brothers and sisters prayers, as I was just diagnosed w/Cancer in 2 areas-4th and 3rd stages. As many as 90% of my family have passed away it, as well as that high of a % were and are unsaved!(😢). Thank you, and all Glory to our Most High God and His Most Holy Word! Glory awaits, and I greatly welcome and look forward to this!
        Thanks for this great site and for Dr Clark!

  2. Jerry,

    Thanks for the comment. Two quick thoughts.

    1. Political moderation, and its cousin prudence, does not preclude, and at times requires, more radical action. This requires the ability to identify an authentic emergency and to act accordingly. But this too requires not being the boy who cries wolf.

    2. We are not, of course, in a heated battle, physically speaking. The question is whether we are in a spiritual battle. That is always true. But is it especially true now in a way that it has not always been? This is debatable, and part of the debate involves asking further questions. Who is the global establishment? What is the origin of the idea of the Fifth Column? What would a consummation of the plan look like? Are there any other conceivable explanations for why such a plan appears to exist? And so on.

    The coming second installment may add some insight on these matters, at least indirectly.

    • Great questions Bill, the answers to which are lengthy and very detailed. This is something I’ve been studying since 1988 when I first read None Dare Call if Conspiracy by Gary Allen (and subsequently spent close to two years in a futile attempt to prove it wrong), and I would encourage anyone just getting started with questions like yours to begin there (even if a bit outdated, it does a good job of laying a foundation). Since then I’ve read over 100 books (on this one topic), hundreds of magazine articles (The New American is a good source), and thousands of web pages (use discernment on the web). Carroll Quigley’s Tragedy and Hope is an excellent resource, as are books by G. Edward Griffin. The list of reliable resources is very long once one begins to study.

      Bullets need not be flying for a battle, physical or spiritual, to be quite real, and those that understand this will clearly see both……make no mistake, this is real warfare. The term Fifth Column I believe originated in Spain and refers to those within a nation working with that nation’s enemies toward it’s overthrow. The Global Establishment consists of those whose intent it is to reorganize the world to fit their visions, all of which appear altruistic on the surface, but are clearly Satanic in origin and practice….that is not an overstatement. The consummation will be a single world government, organized much like the CCP, with singular control of all food, finance, and travel…..it will be a global dictatorship where tyranny reigns while the masses are told how fortunate they are. As for other conceivable explanations, probably, but anything convincing would have to include all the moving parts that have brought us this far. We are very close now and the USA is the last place on Earth where freedom and liberty exist in any measurable quantity. My peace comes from knowing that God is sovereign and none of this is outside of His will, permissive or otherwise.

      Of course, there is eschatological significance to all of this as well, and one’s particular eschatology might color how they interpret various aspects. In short, it is Satan’s attempt to counterfeit what God offers for free. Much more could be said, but making a convincing argument in a blog post is not the proper forum. Only serious study of history, monetary theory, and government with an end goal of rooting out this plan will provide the requisite foundation for real understanding. As William Hendriksen was fond of saying, “It can’t be taught, it must be caught.” I’ll be happy to discuss this further if you have interest….Dr. Clark has access to my email. Thank you for your wonderful, edifying, and timely article! It was a real feast to read.

      • Yes indeed! Thank all 3 of you for these! I’ve been researching much about this for years, also, and I know you all have been, too! I thoroughly enjoy this learning from you, brethren! Look forward to much more!

        • Thanks Jerry. I agree that a full discussion ought not to happen here. If you’re interested, my recommendation, in addition to Dr. Trueman’s Histories and Fallacies, is Matthew Continetti’s The Right: The Hundred Year War for American Conservatism. Its treatment of the John Birch Society may be of interest.

          • Odd that my last reply was deleted.

            But thank you Bill….I appreciate the discussion. No sense writing any more if what I write will be removed without reason…..it was certainly not disrespectful in any way or in violation of the rules here.

  3. “The good news here is that the Christian can often know, simply by applying reason and wisdom”

    I wish it were true that the world’s logic often aligned with reason and wisdom, rather than blind depravity.

    “While power may explain some part of politics, it does not explain everything.”

    The current system plays to power unfortunately. That’s why it’s limited to 2 major parties.

    “ The reduction of politics to power produces a disregard for getting at the truth—which in the view of some people does not exist—corrupting politics itself, as well as education, liberty, justice, and order along the way.”

    There’s usually ideology and unbelief involved as well. I would never seek to toss aside truth. Any pursuit for clarity should separate truth from lies where it does, in fact, exist. Discernment in things not worthy of faith.

    “The fact is, however, that most of the time incompetence explains much more than conspiracy; but incompetence is rather less exciting than a story that tracks…”

    I would like to believe this. But if we keep our expectations low, it may not even matter. The outcome will be what it is.

    “ the Christian must insist that truth is objective and that it can (usually) be ascertained by reason “

    Certainly. And discern where truth may and may not reside.

    “If we cannot know whether a man landed on the Moon in 1969, can we possibly hope to have any rational grounds upon which to affirm the resurrection of Jesus Christ?”

    That’s a strange association.

    “They also believe that truth and justice exist. This means they need not see behind every news headline a conspiratorial plot, as would a radical of left or right who, after having rejected the very possibility of truth, fills the remaining vacuum with power.”

    The foundation of most politics is lies or at least half truths. Media is a lot of spin and opinion. The consequence is often promoted before the story can be fully comprehended.

    A better emphasis is not the intent of the narrative but rather how controlled our response. We can be sober and insulated rather than agitated and perplexed. That’s the path I’m on. God is bigger than any modern-day leviathan.

  4. Ain’t you guys kinda overlooking the elephant(s) in the room a bit? Whereas there certainly is the existence of this so-called “fifth column” or “new world order” going on nowadays, don’t overlook the force of religio-political Islam. Why do you think there are Palestinian protests going on in universities as well as over-the-top methods such as stopping all traffic on a major East-West suburban Chicago area expressway by these radicals?

    Back in the late 70’s the company for which I worked employed contractors under the direction of the then Shah of Iran in order to modernize the country. They installed and instructed the local population in the use of the modern technology until they had to flee due to the encroaching insurrection of the Ayatollah Khomeini. One of the biggest problems returning contractors told us was that the Islamists they were trying to train couldn’t grasp the concept of “preventative maintenance” – if a helicopter or some other piece of equipment failed it was because “Allah willed it,” therefore maintenance was unnecessary as they saw it.

    Then, there is the “gender ” upheaval going more generally in the West. For many, many years it was very common to refer to the connector that plugged into another connector as “male” and “female.” RCA plugs, BNC connectors, electrical plugs, etc. were always referred to as male-to-female connections. Now that’s under attack by the radical feminists. Digital transmission equipment – carrier systems, etc. – always had to be controlled by a “clocking” mechanism which was constistently called “master-slave” to identify the controlling unit vs. the downstream equipment. Now, that verbiage is being scorned by the critical theorists.

    This undercutting of our general sense of communication by progressive radicals is simply opening the door for the welcoming of those “new world order” types. And where do those younger (and I’m often shocked – quite older people) folk get all of these way-out ideas? Yes, that was a rhetorical question.

Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments are welcome but must observe the moral law. Comments that are profane, deny the gospel, advance positions contrary to the Reformed confession, or irritate the management are subject to deletion. Anonymous comments, posted without permission, are forbidden.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.