Saturday, February 19, 2005

On the Biblical Basis for Discussions

Over at the Dialogical Coffeehouse there is a blog that I found particularly encouraging. In considering how government should work, it actually quotes scripture, rather than some modern Christian thinker who (of course) was thinking of scripture, at least derivatively.

I can hear the snickers already. How utterly Evangelical of me; how quaintly naive and unsophisticated. The Bible indeed. We know all that...that's assumed...Seerveld/Kuyper/Wallis/(fill in your favorite writer here) are/were Christians and based everything they said on the Bible. We need to apply the Bible, and these people think about how to do that, and we simply think their thoughts after them.

Perhaps. Nevertheless, it got me thinking about my own past intellectual journey. When I was young, I was all about Schaeffer, Lewis, Sine, Wallis and Sider. Read their books, subscribed to "Sojourners". I knew a lot more back then. Over the years my reading gradually shifted to Spurgeon, Calvin, Luther, emphasis on Biblical commentary. Of the original group, only Schaeffer and Lewis endured. The rest may or may not be right. I don't know. Only time will tell.

As I get older, I am increasingly aware of an urge to distillation, to jettison ideas which may or may not be correct, but certainly cannot be known to be so. It may be because I have found the world to be much more complex than I thought it was, and my life's work with the human body, an incredibly complex system, has bred an incredulity within me regarding our ability to understand complex systems. In my experience, we are lucky if we know the full extent of the direct effect of any of our actions upon a complex system, and we know very little about secondary effects, and nothing about tertiary effects and beyond. Who would have thought that the welfare measures taken in the '60's would lead to a permanently dependent underclass and the dissolution of the African-American family structure? Or, if it didn't, what did? The multiplicity of theories is simply testimony to the uncertainty, the incomprehensibility of these mechanisms.

Hence my return to the Bible. I find there a deeper knowledge of First Principles of humanity. I do not understand how they work out beyond the first level, but I know that they do. I would not have foreseen, for example, how the equal rights of women and the abolition of slavery would arise from this document written in a patriarchal world in which slavery was accepted, but they did, and retrospectively we think we can see how. I know that if I treat my employees as I would be treated, then the kingdom of God will have advanced, but I don't know whether or how we should legislate so that all employers will treat their employees well. I know that if I help the actual poor I know in actual ways that I can, I will have done well, but I do not know how to "fight poverty". I know that if I drive a smaller car more slowly and for shorter distances, I will have been a better steward of the earth's resources, but I do not know what the secondary and tertiary effects would be of mandating that everyone do the same.

I would very interested in hearing the Biblical basis for what each person is doing to further the kingdom. This is a ground we all share, that is approachable by all, and acknowledged (by this circle, at least) as authoritative. Let's have more of it.

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