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Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft (Christian Worldview Integration) Paperback – March 2, 2010
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"Beckwith's book Politics for Christians is most definitely helpful for those who want a solid introduction to politics and who are ready to ponder the believer's place in the rough and tumble work of statecraft." (Scot McKnight, Jesus Creed, August 2010)
About the Author
Francis J. Beckwith (PhD, Fordham University) is professor of philosophy and church-state studies at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where he is also a fellow and faculty associate in the Institute for Studies of Religion. He was the 2008-2009 Mary Ann Remick Senior Visiting Fellow in the Notre Dame Center for Ethics & Culture and was a 2002-2003 Madison Research Fellow in Politics at Princeton University, where he has served since 2003 as a member of the James Madison Society. Beckwith is the author of numerous books such as Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic; Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice; Law, Darwinism & Public Education: The Establishment Clause and the Challenge of Intelligent Design and Do the Right Thing: Readings in Applied Ethics and Social Philosophy. His articles have been published in a number of academic journals across a variety of disciplines, including Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, International Philosophical Quarterly, Public Affairs Quarterly, Social Theory & Practice, American Journal of Jurisprudence, Journal of Medical Ethics, San Diego Law Review, Nevada Law Journal, Journal of Social Philosophy, Philosophia Christi and Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy. Beckwith has been a speaker for numerous Christian ministries (both Protestant and Catholic) throughout his career, including Summit Ministries and the Catholic Apologetics Academy, where he has served on their faculties since 1996 and 2013 respectively. He and his wife, Frankie, live in Woodway, Texas.
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1) Well Done: Beckwith simply has done his homework. It is evident throughout the book that he is knowledgeable and has thought through the Christian Worldview implications on politics. These is much to be learned from him and this book. Spend the time reading this and you will be extremely blessed by how your worldview will begin to change in regards to political life.
2) Arguments Well Constructed: The reader will learn from the introduction what Beckwith's arguments are and how be plans to prove them. This is the mark of any good writer. He lays out chapter by chapter what he intends the reader to understand and how he challenges the Christian to think about government.
3) Longer?: I rarely say this about many books but i wish this was longer, it does a great job but me personally, I want to know more. It is the perfect length or a weekend read and maybe that's what he intended it to be. BUY THIS BOOK!!!
Worth the read.
In other words, liberal democracy seems to enhance many of the ideals the Christian faith does.
Beckwith takes care to define liberal democracy, liberal referring to the liberties or freedoms the government is supposed to guarantee, and democracy covering both a government that is accountable to the people, and has a developed civil society.
The question Beckwith seeks to answer is what does it mean to be a Christian citizen in a liberal democracy, and how should we interact with politics in relation to our faith. Beckwith's plea is not necessarily that ALL Christians should become involved politically, but that ALL Christians should be politically AWARE. They should understand the effects of legislation that is passed by governments and make measured responses to any injustice or hindrance such legislation may make, especially upon the gospel. Beckwith writes: The scriptures seem to teach that people have an obligation to understand the nature of their government and its laws, and employ that knowledge so that the gospel is not disadvantaged by the state.
One interesting example that Beckwith sites is a 2003 ruling in Massachusetts which required the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Catholic Charities which were at that time helping families to adopt children were told that they could no longer exclude same-sex couples for consideration. Of course, the Catholic Charities were not prepared to abide by this ruling. The sad consequences was that these worthy charities withdrew from offering children for adoption. This ruling, while seemingly removing discrimination for one group, now discriminates against another group - a group whose outstanding record in placing children in good homes.
It is examples like this that Beckwith argues should inspire Christians to resist such intrusion by the state on the churches moral theology.
Beckwith has a wonderful discussion on how the apostle Paul used political knowledge and status for himself and the gospel.
Another very interesting discussion is who should Christians vote for. What if a Mormon gets into the general election? Beckwith, somewhat provocatively writes, One mistake is to be inordinately concerned with a candidates creedal allegiance to a particular faith, which may cloud people's judgment and cause them to ignore or down play the point of politics - to do justice and advance the common good.
Insightfully, Beckwith provides us with two mistakes the we as Christians involved with politics must be careful to avoid. The first is the Kennedy Mistake. In 1960 Kennedy, in response to concerns about his Catholicism seemingly dismissed his beliefs as almost irrelevant or inconsequential to any decisions he would make as president. The second mistake is the confessional mistake. This is when a candidate believes that his creedal belief or theological confession are the BEST standard by which to judge the suitability of his candidacy.
For Beckwith we need to hold a balance in respect to politics. Politics is not everything, but neither is it nothing. It has its place. That is why Christians need to be informed of the laws and statutes of our land and discerning as to when they need to or should get involved.
I think this is a valuable book for those seriously interested in politics. It has some wonderful insights, simply lays out the various areas of study in politics and succinctly discusses the major issues. Finally, it points you to further study.
As it turns out, politics is a general term that covers a large number of various sub-disciplines. These include political theory (The study of the nature of government), comparative politics (The study of other political systems), political economy (The study of how politics and the economy relate to each other), and public law (The study of how different entities relate to each other). Chapter one deals with these various divisions within politics.
In the following chapters, Beckwith covers the relationship between the Christian citizen and liberal democracy. In Matthew 22, Jesus instructed that because the image of Caesar was present on the coin presented to him, we have a duty to obey earthly governments. To disobey government, which is an institution established by God, thus equates to disobeying God himself. Implicit in this, however, is the other realization that because the image of God is present on us that we also have a duty to obey God. Thus, while Christians are subject to government authority, it is permissible in certain circumstances to disobey governments which are at conflict with Biblical values.
Beckwith also correctly notes that in some situations, it is permissible to support non-Christian candidates for political office (Mitt Romney, for example). Christians "must not ignore their commitment to justice and the common good when assessing such a candidate."
He notes that Aristotle's idea that "Statecraft is soulcraft" is crucial to a Christian understanding of politics. Beckwith defends what he calls a "perfectionist view of liberty and the human person," which is the idea that "liberty is not merely the right to do good and that the role of government is to advance the common good. It is called perfectionism since its defenders maintain that human beings share the same nature by which we can know what sort of goods, institutions, habits and actions help the human being fulfill his proper end or perfection." In scrutinizing the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and the Danbury Baptists, the popular understanding of the separation of church and state is found lacking. Because the government's purpose is to advance the common good, it is permissible for it to endorse religious practices which aid in this task while simultaneously striking down other practices (Such as those of cults) which do not advance the common good.
Several arguments in favor of secular liberalism are also tackled and found inadequate. I found his treatment of Robert Audi's secular reason argument to be particularly helpful. The division of reasons into the categories of "secular" and "religious," of which the former is treated as fact and the latter is treated as mere subjective opinion, is illusory. "At the end of the day, a reason is weak or strong, true or false. Thus, `religious' and 'secular' are not relevant properties when assessing the quality of reasons people may offer as part of their arguments." Highlighting a point made by Thomas Aquinas, Beckwith writes that "The difference between objects of faith and objects of reason... is not in their status as objectives of knowledge, but in how the knowledge is acquired by the human mind."
Finally, Beckwith ends with a great chapter on the moral argument for the existence of God, which serves as a handy apologetic for the Christian faith. Though I do wish Beckwith could have covered more content in this relatively short book, this is an unreasonable expectation from an introductory text. Instead, Beckwith provides a helpful list of recommended books.
I strongly recommend Beckwith's book for any Christians who are interested in a solid introduction to politics.