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Republocrat Review: A Sneak Peek

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I just sent off a draft of a brief review of Carl Trueman‘s new book Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative to appear in the next issue of Religion & Liberty. (You can get a complimentary subscription here).

I recommend the book as a very incisive and insightful challenge to any facile and uncritical identification of the Christian faith with particular political and economic ideologies.

Here’s a snippet of the review:

[Trueman’s] project is not about demonizing capitalism, wealth, or profits one the one hand, or political power on the other. It is about putting the pursuit of profit and power in its proper place. Thus what he writes about the market applies equally well to the government: “no economic system, least of all perhaps capitalism, can long survive without some kind of larger moral underpinning that stands prior to and independent of the kinds of values the market itself generates.” It is in this larger and prior system of belief and action, the Christian faith, that we are to seek our primary identity and unity, and in pursuit of this Trueman’s book is a bracing and worthwhile effort.

I have been saying in various venues for quite some time now that Trueman’s book can be read as a kind of complement to my recent book, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness. But whereas Trueman’s proximate context is the conflation of conservative politics and the Christian faith by evangelicals, my book’s context is the conflation of progressive politics and the Christian faith by mainline ecumenists.

But both books share a basic thesis that, in Trueman’s words, “The gospel cannot and must not be identified with partisan political posturing.”

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


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  • Ian Thompson

    I have been amazed at the general tone of the reviews of Carl’s book. Before the book was published people were very critical of the book’s thesis (even phoning to bend my ear about our questionable Christian credentials when they heard it was coming). Once the book was out, though, almost every review has agreed with Carl’s central thrust – that we haven’t done well out of allying Christianity with one particular political viewpoint and we need to think biblically rather than politically about what to do next.
    Carl is known in some circles as a controversialist (he does like to stir discussion rather than take a party line on issues) but here I think you’ll find him at his best – passionate, thought-provoking, and entertaining – but with an instinctive feel for scriptural authority – and not necessarily in that order.
    For the future health of the church’s interaction with politics, for the future existence of the church’s ability to be involved with that process, I trust that you will read this book.

  • Roger McKinney

    “no economic system, least of all perhaps capitalism, can long survive without some kind of larger moral underpinning that stands prior to and independent of the kinds of values the market itself generates.”

    If this is an example of the nonsense in the book I don’t want to waste my time. The market does not generate values. The market is not a thing or force existing outside of humanity. The market is nothing more than people buying and selling. If the market displays any values, it is the values that the people bring to it.

  • Roger McKinney

    PS, it would be accurate to say that the market (people) reward certain values, such as thrift, diligence, hard work and other attributes that bring success.

  • Well, I don’t know Roger; it seems Adam Smith had some reservations about the effect of commercialism:

    “Another bad effect of commerce is that it sinks the courage of mankind, and tends to extinguish martial spirits. In all commercial countries the division of labor is infinite, and every one’s thoughts are employed about one particular thing. The minds of men are contracted, and rendered incapable of elevation. Education is despised, or at least neglected, and heroic spirit is utterly extinguished.”

    Lectures On Jurisprudence

  • Roger McKinney

    Luke, well Smith wasn’t infallible. Notice what he values: It “tends to extinguish martial spirits.” He’s talking about war. Smith admired aristocracy and war. He was a bit of a snob. I think it was Dickens who said something similar about the US after a short visit. There are far worse things for people to be obsessed about than business.

    But did commerce really instill those values in people? What would those same people find in a non-commercial society to focus on? Would they focus on war and education? I doubt it. In Smith’s day you had to be pretty wealthy in order to afford the luxury of focusing just on education and war.

    I’m just guessing, but I would imagine that Smith was complaining about middle class and wealthy commoners who didn’t have the values of the nobility, who had always had contempt for commerce and valued education and war. But I’m pretty certain that rich commoners never valued education and war before they became rich, so he honestly couldn’t blame commerce for giving them their values. People tend to get their values from their religion and their social group and then find occupations that agree with those.

    And thank God for bourgeois values. They do more to reduce poverty than all of the charity put together, and far more than Smith’s beloved education and war. See Deirdre Mccloskey’s “the Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce.”