This past Saturday, I was honored to participate in a panel at the International Students for Liberty Conference with four fellow Millennials who hold a libertarian political philosophy because we are Christians. In what became known as the “Jesus Panel,” we covered some of the top issues of concern to young Christian libertarians today who are working towards reconciling the two seemingly unrelated worldviews.
Somehow it fell to me to discuss the Christian view of human nature and how it fits into a libertarian political philosophy. As it was on Saturday, it would be impossible to discuss fully the nature of man in this post, so let’s focus in and talk about a couple aspects that are most important and relevant to this topic.
First, as Christians, we know that every one of us is sinful. We know that each of us have fallen short of the glory of God. We are in need of salvation and we are utterly unable to save ourselves. The message of the Gospel is that salvation from our sins is offered through Christ Jesus. This salvation is voluntary, and it is individual. This is the core message of Christianity—what we want everyone to know. And here we see in this central message of Christianity, the ideals of individual choice and voluntary action.
Christianity starts with the individual, celebrates the individual’s inherent dignity and opportunity for salvation, and grows outwardly into community and kingdom. This brings to bear a second relevant aspect of human nature—we are made in the image of God. While imperfectly so, we can emulate Him in many ways that benefit those around us.
God created everything out of nothing, which in turn means we can create economic value out of scarcity. God redeems us from our sins, and we work towards redeeming others from poverty, ignorance and disease. God respects our freedom, even to reject Him—which is something on which John Locke and others in his intellectual heritage put great value—and we respect the freedom of others.
[pullquote] Libertarian political philosophy fits into the conservative worldview created by a Christian view of human nature.[/pullquote]
This also reinforces that Christianity is about voluntary action, because it is through this voluntary social engagement by which we develop individual virtue and emulate our Creator. Any social obligation but forward in the New Testament is voluntary. The Apostle Paul said repeatedly, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone,” and, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”
When you understand human nature as sinful, but humans as made in the image of God, and you value principles such as individual choice and voluntary action, you begin to develop a worldview that recognizes multiple spheres of authority—God, the individual, the church, the community, the family and finally the government. Jordan Ballor, of the Acton Institute has done quite a bit of work fleshing out this idea, and the main point is that each of these spheres of authority have various rights and responsibilities, and balancing all of them appropriately is key to having a rightly ordered life.
With this worldview, if a sphere of authority acts beyond its limits, or does something that is the responsibility of another sphere, it is tyrannizing the sphere that is responsible for those actions. We see this most prominently when the government does things the church, the community or individuals ought to be doing.
This worldview, based on a Christian understanding of human nature, is what some might refer to as a conservative worldview—because as we discussed, the individual has rights and responsibilities. The Church has rights and responsibilities. And it is these responsibilities that cause some libertarians to cringe.
This is what I see as the key to libertarian and conservative fusionism—a topic I’ve written about quite a bit over the last few years, but only recently have come to this key understanding with help from books by Jordan Ballor and Donald Devine.
If we understand conservatism as a Judeo-Christian worldview which recognizes a limited authority for government and a significant authority of the individual, it is completely compatible with libertarianism—a political philosophy of limited government and free markets.
So this changes the terms of the question a bit. Instead of a Christian view of human nature fitting into a libertarian political philosophy, it is the libertarian political philosophy that fits into the conservative worldview created by a Christian view of human nature. And in doing so, they are entirely compatible, if not symbiotically strengthened.