Finally, a book by a Christian and for Christians that makes no apologies for the state, its legislation, its regulations, and its wars. Christian Theology of Public Policy: Highlighting the American Experience (Alertness Books, 2006) is such a book.
The author is John Cobin, a financial planner who holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy from George Mason University. Although Cobin has an impressive rsum (bilingual, world-traveler, entrepreneur, consultant, teacher, radio talk show host), he is above all a devout evangelical Christian. The Bible is Cobin’s authority, not the Constitution, and he quotes Scripture throughout the book.
The book comes highly recommended, with forewords by the book’s editor, an economist, a pastor, a philosopher, and a historian. Although there are portions of these which appear as blurbs on the dust jacket, there is one blurb in particular on the back cover that I couldn’t agree with more:
This is an outstanding book that I could not have written if I tried. It is a thoroughly biblical and much-needed remedy to Christian apologists for the state and its wars. Dr. Cobin hits the proverbial nail on the head when he describes states as “parasites and predators that dole out privileges and siphon off prosperity through taxes and regulation.” I highly recommend this book to all Christians, and especially those Christians who blindly follow the conservative movement and the Republican Party while repeating their “obey the powers that be” mantra.
I not only wholeheartedly agree with this blurb, I wrote it after reading a pre-publication version of the book. Now that I have had time to read and digest the published version, I would add that this book is a must-read for any and all Christians. This does not mean that I agree with all of Cobin’s biblical interpretations (I don’t), but it does mean I believe that Christians should read and heed his insights regarding the proper relationship between a Christian and the government.
Readers of this book for the first time are warned in the forewords:
- “Cobin’s conclusions likely will shock the average historically-challenged, Evangelical.”
- “In this bold work, Baptists will find their nationalistic ideas counted treasonous to Christ by their forefathers in the faith.”
- “Christians in general will find that much of what they embrace runs counter to the biblical and foundational concepts of justice and liberty for all.”
Cobin tells us in the preface that “this book is about what the Bible says about the state and its public policies.” Very true, but that is just one side of the coin. The book is also a stinging rebuke to Christians who equate obeying/disobeying the state with obeying/disobeying God Almighty. This false, but commonly held, opinion results in Christians not only excusing and defending, but actively endorsing and promoting the state’s legislation, regulations, and wars.
This is not a book for every Christian. The intended audience of the book is “thinking Christians.” This means that Christians who moonlight as cheerleaders for the Bush administration, the conservative movement, and the Republican Party are not part of the book’s intended audience. Although they are the very ones who need to read it, I don’t think they could get past the introduction. There Cobin wastes no time in presenting his opinion of the state: “The state has been the greatest earthly disseminator of evil and oppression in the history of man?” He remarks elsewhere:
- States are cancerous outgrowths that thrive by plundering inalienable rights.
- States are parasites and predators that dole out privileges and siphon off prosperity through taxes and regulation.
- The state has been a vile nuisance for civilized men, and the Bible gives us no reason to believe its evil nature can be changed.
- The state remains the foremost enemy of humanity and, along with false religion, the foremost ally of Satan.
- The state has been more lethal than any infectious disease, plague, or religious inquisition in the history of mankind.
- While serial killers murder a small number of people, state rulers murder them by the thousands and even millions.
Because the state is “inherently evil,” “satanic,” and “the enemy of God,” Cobin believes that “Christian leaders are leading people astray who promote the modern state.” Christian leaders should “warn Christians about the evil nature of the state, about the statist schemes of Satan, and tell them to be on their guard against the state — one of the church’s most lethal enemies in history.” Christians should “work against their enemy the state and its proactive policies.” Christians should “defend themselves against the state, just as they would against any other criminal or crime organization.”
The introduction also initiates the first of many examinations in the book of a key passage of Scripture — “one of the most important Bible passages dealing with the civil authority and the Christian’s relationship to it” — Romans 13. Cobin believes that this passage “is seldom read in light of its historical context.” He concludes that “the foremost doctrinal issue revolves around when or why Christians may or must disobey, rather than if Christians may ever disobey at all.”
The introduction concludes with a description of the organization and contents of the four parts of the book, each of which has from three to six chapters. Each chapter (including the introduction) is prefaced with quotes from great thinkers like H. L. Mencken, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, Mark Twain, and Robert E. Lee, just to name a few. Throughout the book, Cobin quotes from or recommends the works of James Bovard, Ludwig von Mises, Thomas DiLorenzo, Vicesimus Knox, Francis Schaeffer, Thomas Jefferson, Albert J. Nock, and yours truly. The book contains 338 pages, followed by 16 pages of information about Cobin’s other books. There are two appendixes, a bibliography, and subject, name, and Scripture indexes. The book concludes with the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Cobin uses footnotes throughout the book instead of endnotes, but — and this can be very frustrating — he does not use chapter headings.
In part one, Cobin lays the foundation for the rest of the book. He identifies three categories of public policy; i.e., government action: reactive policy, the inefficient provision of genuine market goods and services, and proactive policy. Reactive policy is “action by government designed to provide collective self-defense against predators.” This would include national defense, the establishment and enforcement of legal rules based on the common law, and criminal justice. Reactive policies are “the only necessary and just forms of government action.” Policies of inefficient public provision are goods or services provided by the government that are normally provided by the market. These provisions will be inefficient because of the lack of market incentives and competition. Proactive policies are policies aimed at changing behavior or thinking such as hate crimes, marriage licensing, seat belt laws, “sin” taxes, drug prohibition laws, and school attendance laws. Also included would be policies aimed at redistribution of wealth like food stamps, welfare, Social Security (which Cobin considers a Ponzi scheme), and federal subsidies for housing and education. A political philosophy that “justifies plundering one group of citizens in order to benefit another” is “an abomination to the Christian faith.”
Cobin then turns to the interpretation of two key passages of Scripture: Romans 13:1—7 and 1 Peter 2:13—17. He believes that “culture and history must have some bearing on the interpretation” of these passages. He gives biblical examples of the significance of cultural context for proper interpretation. Cobin also makes some key historical suppositions:
It seems that Paul wanted to shut down any possible excuse for the Roman state to persecute believers. If there was to be persecution, it must come as a result of hatred for Jesus Christ and His church (Revelation 12:17), and not because of the sinful behavior of Christians. When social instability and lack of food produced rogues and riots in Rome, Christians were to have no part of it.
The Apostles simply did not envision (and could not have imagined) Christian submission to the state entailing us Christians advocating or voluntarily supporting and benefiting from state-sanctioned thefts, murders, unjustified aggression, fraud, or malice.
In the last chapter in part one, Cobin introduces what he considers to be the four Christian views of the state and public policy. The two historical schools of thought regarding this matter are the Integrated Authority School and the Competing Kingdom School. The former school of thought regards the state as “a potential ally of the family and church in establishing or advancing God’s kingdom in the world.” The latter school regards the state as on “a course antithetical to God’s.” Each school has two branches. The first is divided into the Theonomist and Divine Right views; the second into the Anabaptist and Liberty of Conscience views. Cobin correctly notes that “Christians who have sharp disagreements over the millennium or predestination may find themselves in agreement with respect to public policy theology.” “Theonomy,” as Cobin quotes Greg Bahnsen, “teaches that civil rulers are morally obligated to enforce those laws of Christ, found throughout the [Old and New Testament] Scriptures.” In the Divine Right viewpoint: “The state is a special sphere of authority along with the family and the church.” It rests on the assumption that “God has ordained the state to look after civil society for Him.” The Anabaptist or pacifist view “holds a passive or non-confrontational public policy theology.” The Liberty of Conscience view considers the state to be evil, and “having a strong link with Satan and his kingdom.” The state “is never viewed as something to be transformed or that can ever become anything other than evil.”
Because he adheres to the Liberty of Conscience perspective, Cobin spends the rest of part one discussing the Christian’s obedience to the state in the context of that perspective. He maintains that “unless one is willing to claim that the Apostles were out of their minds, or that their teaching was and is largely irrelevant for practical living today, the liberty of conscience view holds that the cursory (and common) interpretation of Romans 13:1—7, 1 Peter 2:13—17, and Titus 3:1 is wayward and must be rejected.” The Christian’s obedience should be expedient, passive, and qualified:
Christian obedience is triggered when the believer [is] faced with any particular policy (legislation, ruling, executive order) that threatens him. The bottom line is that Christians obey in order to avoid incurring the state’s wrath. They do not want to incite Leviathan to break out against them on account of their public disobedience to a policy. Their objective is to minimize earthy entanglements (2 Timothy 2:4) or any action that detracts from the glory of God.
Christians are to obey whenever directly called upon to do so, so long as God is not defrauded or any sin committed, but it is not their duty to actively pursue a course wherein they scour the “law of the land.” They do not need to make sure that they are in compliance with every point of public policy if the state does not directly pressure them to do so.
Submission to the state is not an absolute command. Therefore, one cannot say that a Christian has sinned necessarily because he has violated some public policy.
In part two, Cobin explores the nature of the state, explains the divine origin of state rulers, and provides us with a concise commentary on two key sections of Scripture: Romans 12—14 and 1 Peter 2. In part three, Cobin considers key issues like self-defense, Christian “rights,” slavery, war, torture, capital punishment, gun control, rebellion, and revolution. In part four, Cobin considers the subjects of nationalism, lotteries, gambling, Christian activism, and offers some concluding remarks.
This book will provide a much-needed education to conservative Christians who have not been exposed to libertarian ideas. Cobin considers Lincoln and FDR to be “among the greatest American criminals.” He opposes the state legislating morality through victimless crime legislation. He finds it hard to see how a Christian could serve in the armies of the British loyalists during the Revolutionary War, the Union during the Civil War, and those of the American state that invaded Vietnam and Iraq. Although Cobin supports capital punishment, he believes that “its administration by the wayward state must always be suspect.” He believes that the “War Between the States” marked “the beginning of the part-time enslavement of all Americans.” He supports jury nullification. He maintains that “the Second Amendment was intended to be the ultimate check against a tyrannical state.” He opposes the displaying of the American flag in churches. Nationalism is “always an egregious idolatry that Christians must learn to shun.” The “best” form of taxation is a state lottery instead of the state extortion racket called income taxes, sales taxes, gas taxes, property taxes, licenses, permits, registration fees, or traffic fines.
I will conclude with some notable quotes by Cobin:
- Nowhere in the Bible is the state held out to be the great decider or legislator of what God thinks is right or wrong.
- Christians should not endeavor to recruit the state into God’s service. They should not try to take over the evil state and use it, even after some vain process of purification, to promote virtue in society.
- An American Christian must always be a Christian first and an American second.
- Thinking Christians know wherein lies real evil in the world: false religion and the state are the wickedest institutions among men.
Christians don’t have to agree with all of Cobin’s biblical interpretations to benefit from reading his book. I don’t and I have. It was Francis Bacon who stated that “some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” Cobin’s book definitely falls in the latter category.