Belief and the nation
Wilberforce Publications, 521 pages, £8.98
Star rating: 3
All too often the impression is given that the Bible applies primarily, if not exclusively, to areas of personal piety, personal morality and church polity. Any attempt to demonstrate how biblical principles impact every area of thought and life is therefore to be welcomed.
In the tradition of John Stott’s Issues facing Christians today and, more recently, Wayne Grudem’s Politics according to the Bible, the present volume attempts to apply Christian thinking to modern political and social issues. It is not necessary to agree with the author at every point in order to profit from his contribution.
Belief and the nation differs from its predecessors in that it is intended for unbelievers as well as believers. It attempts to show how Christian principles provide a rational, coherent basis for public policy in a free society. Perhaps for that reason (combined with Scriven’s approach as a lawyer rather than theologian), the emphasis is more on demonstrating the reasonableness of a Christian world view than on biblical exposition and theological reflection.
Christians are often nervous about pressing for laws and policies founded on biblical principles. It is believed to be unreasonable to impose God’s standards on a nation that does not acknowledge the Creator. However, there is no such thing as religious neutrality: ‘A society and its laws will … inevitably reflect values of some kind, whether or not these are articulated, and whether they represent only a response to individual situations or reflect a coherent world view’.
Scriven strongly rejects the view of secular thinkers who maintain that religious values and related policies should be excluded from the public square on principle. While faith in God is not common ground, the perspectives of believers should not be arbitrarily excluded from debate. It is not necessary to be a Christian to recognise the benefits of values based on Christian thinking, since they are ‘consistent with human nature and the world as we experience it’.
The book is divided into six parts. The first part, ‘Philosophical foundations’, includes some helpful observations on a number of areas, including utopianism, rights theory, utilitarianism and totalitarianism.
Part two, on ‘Principles of government’, reflects how the state has assumed jurisdiction over areas previously considered the responsibility of the family or civil society, and makes the case for limited government.
In parts three to five, Scriven addresses a broad range of social policies and global issues, before concluding with a look into the future. In these latter sections, he ranges beyond subjects commonly regarded as ‘Christian’ issues (e.g. abortion, homosexuality, the family, religious liberties) and brings biblical principles to bear on areas as diverse as companies and markets, nationality and globalisation, the environment, and foreign policy.
Belief and the nation robustly contends that political power structures are necessary in a fallen world. It also claims that Christians have a legitimate role in seeking the well-being of society. This can be achieved through engagement in the political process, but the author rightly recognises that there are limits to what politics can achieve: it cannot change the human heart or usher in the kingdom of God.