Thursday, July 20, 2006

Book Review: Paul Marshall's God and the Constitution: Christianity and American Politics

Paul Marshall’s book on God and the Constitution is the best book on faith and government, in fact the best book on government for that matter, that I think I have ever read. It is thorough, balanced, biblical, and almost always correct. Marshall begins by sketching the difficulty that in our culture today religious faith is suppressed, criticized and expelled from the public. At the same time religion is ignored here in America, it is ignored abroad despite its great importance in history, current affairs, war and peace. But a proper understanding of the world requires seeing things as they actually are rather than as we wish them to be or as they would seem to be convenient. Religion must be understood. True religion must be believed. Marshall sets about discussing the Christian faith and its application to the realities of human government. He starts off near the beginning with the story of Cain and its many implications. He deals wisely with the questions of coercion and power raised by human government. He notes the source of government’s authority in God Himself and goes through the biblical passages dealing with government both directly and tangentially. Marshall’s hermeneutic is practically flawless. He wisely interprets and combines the biblical passages to show the authority of human government, its limits and the times it can be changed. Marshall explains away many of the attacks by Christians and non-Christians alike on a biblical view of government.

Marshall also explains the proper relationship between the Christian faith and government. He notes that Christians should not be seeking a genuine theocracy, but cannot avoid expressing true ideas as part of their love for their neighbor in a participatory republic. Marshall deals with the issues of rights, civil disobedience, democracy and politics from a Christian perspective in a marvelously balanced way. He gives examples of the failures of both the right and the left to properly apply the truth in politics. He provides suitable anecdotes, the problems raised by these anecdotes, and illustrates in detail the classic understanding of the relationship between law and gospel. Marshall also warns us against the various types of idolatry inspired by life, culture and political action. But he is not afraid of political action. He explains the proper role of the church, the state and religious freedom. He debunks the current belief that true toleration is believing nothing at all and only endorsing religions that believe nothing significant. He also rejects the idea of a denomination controlling the government. He understands that there is a need to recognize the truth of Christianity and to use the truths flowing from Christianity in government despite the current hostility to doing so. But Marshall is sensitive to how this can be done effectively. He understands that while we should never compromise our principles, we must compromise in politics. Incrementalism will often gain us far more ground in the fight to love our neighbors than a steadfast insistence on all or nothing. He also understands the difference between law and morality, that a government cannot require all acts of virtue or punish all acts of vice. All human government is a tool for God to punish evil and reward good, but there must always be mercy and restraint involved since all of us are sinners and incapable of keeping the whole of God’s law. Marshall deals with some of the thornier issues in politics today including abortion. He also deals with the difficult questions of international law and international relations including the current problem with Islam and the ancient problem of war. Overall, I find Marshall’s book to be extremely satisfying and I am surprised that it is not more popular and more common among Evangelicals today.


Ben Bush Jr said...

Mr. McConnell,
I enjoyed your post. FOr someone in your position, This book receives quite an endorsement. I believe I would be interested in obtaining a copy myself. I will start looking.
I'm especially interested in Marshall's commentary on Cain as His starting point. Cain is not your normal starting point for a legal treatise of any type. You don't hear much about Cain from Preachers for that matter. I say that because it was the study of Cain and his interaction with Able and God which brought me to my present view on God and Government. That study abruptly started with a chapter dealing with Cain in Tupper Saussy's "Rulers Of Evil" published by Harper Collins in 1999.
I would also be interested in Marshall's "Hermeneutic". I have found that many scholars, teachers and preachers fail to consistently follow their rules of hermeneutics when dealing with Scripture. I have seen many lawyers do the same within their area of law ( no reference to you intended). If he is consistent, that may be a major part of the reason his book is not highly valued among evangelicals today! I look forward to viewing your other posts. Thanks.

Professor McConnell said...

I have not read Tupper Saussy's book, but I can tell from the reviews that I would strongly disagree with it.

Saussy is a conspiracy theorist who is obsessed with anti-Catholicism. He misunderstands the founders, the Bible, and history. His work is full of what can only be called hate speech.

The founders were almost all strong Calvinists. They were in no way afflicted with Roman Catholic or elitist tendencies.

I have strong theological differences of opinion with Rome, but I cannot agree with Saussy either. I am sure he does not understand the significance of Cain.

Cains story shows many things. According to Paul Marshall, and another attorney, Sam Ericsson, who I recently heard speak on the passage, it shows humans knew much about right and wrong even before the Bible was written. It shows that penalties can be mitigated and mercy shown. It shows that even murderers are still under the rule of law. And it is an example of the first instance of religious persecution. The passage does not give any status to any current humans. All Cain's descendents died in the flood. The mark of Cain was a sign of God's protection unique to him, and not a curse against any living humans today, or at any time. Cain is not the precursor of modern government or fallen man. He is just a man who's disobedience to God and God's response to his disobedience tell us something about God and His order.

Ben Bush Jr said...

Mr McConnell,
I notice that you have not posted my latest comment. I was wondering if you actually received it. If not, maybe this can act as a substitute.
Your almost instant rejection of Tupper Saussy and Rulers of Evil mildly surprises me. For a man in your position, I would think that considering a different view, especially concerning such a broadly important topic as God & Government, would be a rather normal part of the educational process. This book is a well written work. It is not the work of an off-the-wall conspiritorial kook. Neither is it hate speech. If you would visit, you would see this by reading a certain number of chapters for yourself.
With that said, this is not a matter of personally coming across an eclectic viewpoint championed by a persecuted wanna-be patriot and seeking self actualization by clinging to a hopeful future reality. My thoughts about the book, its facts and conclusions are based, not on the speculative and illusory opinions of others, but on first hand knowledge, something that carries much legal weight in your profession and is paramount to the presentation of any worthwhile case.
Your response to this will determine our future relationship on your blog. I have read many of your posts. There is much in what you write that I can and do agree with. I also have questions about certain statments you make. I have no desire to argue, frivolously or otherwise. I hope we can address these issues as genuine Brothers in Christ. To proceed in any other capacity would be a waste for both of us. I patiently wait for your response.

Professor McConnell said...

Mr. Bush,

Thanks very much for your interest in my blog and your input.

I have finally found a way to actually read a good chunk of Saussy's book so I can comment on it from first hand inspection.

The book does include many historical facts. The problem is the way they are put together and the conclusions reached.

For example, the Roman Catholic church had been very influenced by Roman civilization. So have the United States and England. All of western culture has been influenced by the ancient Roman world as well as by Greece and by Israel. But Saussy implies that Roman influence in language art etc. is the same as Roman Catholic influence. And that Roman influence means people are believers in paganism. Sorry, but it is seems just nutty to connect the dots that way.

Saussy also implies that because Loyola and the Nights Hospitalar leadership may have been on the same ship at the same time that they must have exchanged secret information, powers, and plans. Again, this is just silly.

Yet another example is the belief that because so many senators are Catholic, the Roman church controls America. That ignores how many Presbyterians and others we have in positions of power. It also ignores the truth that the Catholics in the Senate are mostly bad and rebellious catholics. They do not follow the teachings of Roman Catholicism in their politics or their lives.

Another example is the idea that Uruk in Summeria is the city Cain founded and follows the pattern or model of that first city. Even if the city was rebuilt on the pre-flood site, and given the same name, it is unjustified allegorical interpretation to attribute to Cain or Uruk some master plan of human government when the rest of the bible makes clear statements about God's purposes for and dealings with human government.

Saussy's apparent belief that the Jesuits, Templars and Masons work together is also counter factual. You can make a case for the Masons playing at being the extension of the knights Templar. You can also make a case for the Jesuits being involved in all sorts of mischief. But to connect the two is unreasonable.

Finally, England, and Scotland have been the worst thorns in the side of the papacy since the reformation. The U.S. is squally a continuation of all that was good and has faded in England and Scotland. To make the U.S. into the tool of the Roman church is counter-factual and unhistorical. Coincidences and etymological similarities do not make reality.

These ideas also have a negative effect. They discourage good people from getting involved in government and law, or make them believe bad government is normative. For all these reasons I do not want people who read my blog to be encouraged to read Saussy's sort of literature. And, I have more important real problems to write about.

The Masons are bad. Even if they are play acting, their books teach bad things. But the Masons are not influential as Masons in America. The conclusions of the Council of Trent are anti-Christian and unbiblical. But few modern American Catholics even know about, let alone believe without amendment and qualification the outrages of Trent. Neither the Masons nor Trent are the major issues of the day.

Islamofacism, post-modernism, radical political liberalism, sacramental-ism, pietism that prevents people from fighting evil, antinomianism, legalism, socialism, materialism - these are some great trouble making ideas of our time. But even these are not bound together by any human conspiracy.

I sense you are a thoughtful person. I appreciate your interest in what I have written. But I do have to act to set limits based on what I believe God tells me through His word.

Ben Bush Jr said...

Mr McConnnell,
Thank you for your kind words towards me. I do appreciate and respect your sense of responsibility concerning the limits of your belief(s), especially when it comes to the revealed Word of God.
Based on that solid foundation (Christ and His Word)and your position as Dean of Law, I would expect a reasoned response emanating from a much more sound hermenuetic than "a good Chunk of Saussy's Book." Surely you wouldn't allow your students to be so selective in their first hand inspection of evidence to be presented as the basis for the judgement of Judge or Jury. And I also Hope this is not indicative of the way you handle the Word of God.
Disagreeing with Saussy and his conclusions is one thing. Disagreeing without perusing the entire work is another. After all, context is a major hermeneutical tenet.
Before I proceed further, I'll say this. In no way am I interested in having this exchange devolve into Conpiracy Theory 101.

However, your basis for concluding that Saussy's factual basis for conpiracy is "nutty" and "silly" treads on very thin, potentially non existent, legal ground. In order to be convicted of criminal conpiracy under Federal statutes, as well as most parallel state statutes, one does not have to personally know the other one(s) invloved in the criminal conpiracy, nor is he required to know of the existence of another person involved in the criminal conspiracy. In order to be held culpable, he has only to engage in an action which materially furthers the criminal conspiracy. He doesn't even have to be aware that there is a conspiracy! Based on modern legal theory, and especially since 9-11 and the Patriot Act, convicting humans of strict conpiracy has become much easier.

I notice, though, that you have eliminated the possibility of human conpiracy in the implementation of various "trouble making ideas of our time." Is it possible that this rejection of the human possibility carries the implicit acknowledgement or possibility of a non-human conspiricy or plan? If so, what would be the nature and scope of this conspiracy, as well as the biblical basis for it? Or, do you deny conspiracy in the Scripture. If so, why?

Professor McConnell said...

I don't need to prove my opinions about authors or about history in a court of law. That is not what courts are designed to do. But I think the examples I gave in the prior comment speak for themselves.

As for conspiracies that are not human, I think the Bible teaches that there are, in a sense, such things. The devil is a personal being who does have plans and attempts to affect human society. Often I think he uses two or more ideas or forces against the middle rather than keeping all his eggs in one basket so to speak. So, for example, a society wisely rejecting fascism can run into the arms of communism. But the power of the devil is highly limited. The devil is a finite being. He can influence, but cannot control human will. And the devil is nothing compared to God. God is truly sovereign and the true author of history. God takes the devil's attempts at messing up history and makes them part of a greater and larger story or plan that brings God even greater glory. Even Saussy seems to say this, but I think he is wrong on many of the details about how God is working in history, how the devil has worked in history, and what God's plans and standards are.

While humans apart from Christ are slaves to sin, in Christ we can be free from the devil and his schemes. That does not mean Christians never sin. But it does mean they do not have to sin. And all humans are capable of making some choices that are better than others. Note what Jesus said to the crowd: "You, being evil, still know how to give good gifts to your children. . ."

Ben Bush Jr said...

Mr McConnell,
I agree that you don't need to, nor are you required to prove your opinions about authors or history in a court of law. But, as a Child of God, you and I will give an account before the "Judge of the World," where every idle word will be accounted for. This court and its standard of reckoning is a mite higher and more stringent than any earthly court of law, court of public opinion or marketplace of ideas. So, please, don't fault me for slightly raising the bar (pardon the pun!)as it relates to our exchange.

As for non human conpiracy taught by the Bible, I agree with your statement that the devil "plans and attempts to affect human society" by using "two or more ideas or forces against the middle." This fact is revealed in Scripture in two places. Jesus states that "If Satan casts himself out, his kingdom cannot stand." (and we know that his kingdom, ultimately, doesn't stand) This is "opposing oneself", which for humans, renders them a captive of Satan (2 Timothy 2:25-26)pursuant to his will. The implementation of this kingdom modus operandi through his fellow fallen angels renders this plan a conpiracy to "kill, steal and destroy" the souls of men and all that they are engaged in.
I think your comment about the limit of the devil's power is summed up by Peter's statement that "the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth to and fro seeking whom he may devour." As it states, this devouring is by permission or consent. It matters not whether consent was gained through a direct act of the will or through ignorance. The result is the same. and it matters not whether the person is a Child of God or not. The difference, and a huge one, is that the Child of God is equipped, through the Holy Spirit, with "power over all the power of the enemy." As long as it is exercised properly, we are, as you said, "free from the devil and his schemes." Otherwise, we reap what we sow.

I definitely agree with you concerning the sovereignty of God over any and all earthly actions, including those of the devil. My question would be threefold,
1. Who are God's agents upon earth?
2. What is their nature and origin?
2. What are the responsibilities of these agents upon earth?

Ben Bush Jr said...

Mr. McConnell,
I apologize for the redundant question. I didn't realize that you had already answered the three questions when responding to The Politics of Heaven blog post. I'll get back with you.