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Statecraft as Soulcraft: The Study of Politics

This is the second in a series on “Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft.” Read part one. Statecraft as Soulcraft In “Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft,” Francis J. Beckwith attempts to answer some questions that Christians have regarding the role of religious beliefs and the public square. In his first chapter Beckwith provides an overview of various subfields in politics, illustrating that before we can address questions that Christians may have about politics, we first need to think through the purpose of politics and why it’s okay for Christians to be involved in political discourse. In this post, I’ll list some summaries of the various fields that Beckwith presents. 1. Political Theory/Philosophy: Beckwith writes: “Political theory encompasses a multitude of philosophical questions about the nature of government, the individual, rights, democracy, liberty, equality, and the good.” One of the main areas that Americans deal with pertains to rights talk. This is largely due to the work of John Locke who influenced the Founders. Many of us have no problem believing that people have rights to certain things and people don’t have rights to other things. But when it comes to controversial issues, citizens will disagree over the course of action. Some may even think that despite there not being a right to some thing, the government should still stay out of that action. 2. Comparative Politics: As the title suggests, this subfield compares various political systems in order to answer a number of questions. For example, one might look to a European country and compare its health system and argue that the United States should implement a similar plan. Not only does this involve quantitative research such as statistics on any given issue, but also it involves qualitative pronouncements. The qualitative pronouncements are often what people fail to recognize, despite their vital importance to an argument. The statistics can tell us all they want, but it’s the conclusions that we draw from them (especially the proposed course of action) that are important. The Bible has much to say on comparative politics, especially in the Old Testament (how Israel would be compared to her neighbors). 3. International Relations: “Topics covered under international relations include international law, international human rights[,] and the relationships between nation-states,” Beckwith writes. Christians have much to offer this subfield, and some scholars believe Christians are largely responsible for the progress made in the 20th century on international human rights. Consider how renowned Christian author and speaker Os Guinness “drafted [the] Charter for Religious Freedom, a reaffirmation of Article 18 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was published in Brussels at the European Parliament in 2012 with the endorsement and support of the United Nations Rapporteur on Religious Freedom.” 4. Political Economy: This subfield deals with the relationship between politics and economics. In this field, people study both various economic theories/systems and the affect that policy and political interest groups have on the economy. It is highly important that Christians (who believe that the poor must be helped) have a basic understanding of political economy. Not all policy decisions that are well intentioned to help the poor are good. In fact, sometimes there are negative consequences that are contradictory to the desired outcomes. 5. Public Law: Public law concerns the relationship between the government and individuals (including corporate entities). This includes, for example, the Bill of Rights. Many people believe that the federal government should secure individual rights (beyond the explicit interpretation of the Bill of Rights) whereas “many citizens and jurists disagree, arguing that these matters and their regulation are best left to the individual states ….” For those of you who have read my past article on the Incorporation Doctrine, you’ll know where I stand. Beckwith also provides for us a brief description of the field of America politics (political parties, history, etc.), though many of us are already familiar with it. This chapter might make for an exciting read for somebody who has little prior knowledge of the political world. I’m looking forward to the next chapter on liberal democracy and the Christian citizen. I hope Beckwith will be able to provide some detailed thoughts and additional arguments.