Thursday, January 31, 2008

History of Human Government (9) - David as Military Leader

The Lord told Nathan his purpose for David.

Now then, tell my servant David, 'This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men of the earth. And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders [over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies (2 Sam 7:8-11).
The word translated as ruler is “nâgîyd”, which is a military term. It mean commander, not ruler. God did not appoint David to be a ruler or king, but as a temporary military commander to deal to the nations enemies. Israel had never fully taken the land of Canaan, so it was surrounded by enemies.

David was a very effective military leader. He demonstrated his military skills in the defeat of Goliath. He defeated the Jebusites and drove them out of Jerusalem. He destroyed all the enemies that threatened Israel. God was with David while he acted as military leader, so he was successful in war and established peace for his people.

Once David had established peace, Israel did not require a military commander any more. God would protect them, if they trusted in him. They would only need a military commander, if they turned away from God. This meant that David did not need a successor. Provided the people remained faithful to God, there was no task for David to do, because Israel was at peace. David did not understand this and started to act as a King. David failed as a king, because he was going beyond his calling from God. While he stuck to his calling as a military leaser, he was successful.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

History of Human Government (8) - Permanent King

The people of Israel became dissatisfied with just having temporary military leaders. They were supposed to be a temporary solution, as when the people went back to serving God, the military leader would no longer be needed. The problem was that the people did not want to serve God.

But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways (Jud 2:19).
The natural inclination of Israel was towards corruption and following other gods. They refused to give up evil and their stubborn ways, so temporary military leaders did not work for them.

Israel had lost God’s protection so frequently, that they wanted permanent military protection. So they asked for a king like the nations around them.
We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles (1 Sam 8:19,20).
The king was not a totally new role, but a permanent form of the judge/military commander. Israel wanted a king, so they could live in permanent disobedience to God without threat of invasion. A military nation is not a godly nation.

The other problem with kingship was that it was not God’s idea. It was copied from the heathen nations around Israel. That was never going to be a good place to find good government.

Samuel warned the people that a king was not part of God’s plan for them in 1 Sam 8:10-17. These are shocking words. The nation that chooses a human king will end up in slavery. The young men will be forced to serve in the king’s army. The young women will forced to serve in the king’s palace. The king will take the best of the land for himself. He will tax all their income and make them poor.

Samuel was certain that the king would not be “God's servant to do you good” (Rom 13:4). The people hoped that the king would deliver them from the surrounding nations. Instead of setting them free, the king would make them his slaves.

The worst thing was that Israel’s kings constantly provoked the nations, or joined in unholy alliances with them. This resulted in more wars. The history of Israel is the history of wars, where the people had to fight for the king. This produced a great deal of suffering for the nation.

The history of Israel demonstrates that good kings are usually succeeded by bad kings. Because their sons grow up in a privileged world, they generally do not have the character that such a powerful position needs. The trouble is that once power has been given to a king, the people can never get it back, even if his sons turn bad.
Where is your king, that he may save you? Where are your rulers in all your towns, of whom you said, Give me a king and princes'? So in my anger I gave you a king, and in my wrath I took him away. (Hos 13:10,11).
God gave Israel a king as punishment for disobedience, not for blessing.

Many Christians believe that human kingship is a good form of government. This is not true. God never blessed human kingship as an optimal form of government.

A King in heaven is great. A king on earth is dangerous.

Monday, January 28, 2008

History of Government (7) - Fighting Judges

A new stage of human government began with the book of Judges, but this was also a temporary solution to a perennial problem. When the people turned away from God, they lost God’s protection and were invaded by enemy nations.

Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders (Jud 2:16).
They needed a military leader to deliver them from these attacks. God took a recognised judge and turned him into a temporary military leader.
Unlike their fathers, they quickly turned from the way in which their fathers had walked, the way of obedience to the LORD's commands. Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them (Jud 2:17-18).
The people would be come complacent and stop trusting in God. He would withdraw their protection and they would be invaded. When the nation repented, God would turn a judge into a military leader to rescue them from the invaders.

These fighting judges were not an ideal form of government. They were the response of a compassionate God to a people groaning under oppression and affliction. God only raised up a judge to lead the nation, when the nation was in trouble. They were a temporary solution to a serious problem. They were not the ideal form of government.

The title of these judges is a bit confusing. They started their careers as judges applying the law amongst the people, when God turned them into military leaders to deliver the people. A temporary military leader has a different role to a judge.

The Long Put

The economic journalists are getting stirred up about the huge bonuses paid to ultra rich bankers. Their concern is that by the time the consequences of the bankers trading come home to roost, the bonuses are well spent.

I am not too worried about the bankers. There is one contingency that they have not built into their computer models. They will have to give an account to God for what they do with their money.

The Parable of the shrewd manager (Luke 16:1-12) is not easy to interpret, but one thing is clear. We will accountable to God for what we do with our material wealth, not just for our spiritual gifts. Jesus adds a further challenge.

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked (Luke 12:48).
The more that people have, the more that God expects of them. I am glad that I do not get a million dollar bonus, because I could not cope with the responsibility that brings.

One day the bankers and deal makers will have to stand before God and give an account of what they have done with all that they were given. All their options will be closed out. Why would anyone envy them.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Setting Interest Rates

The responsibility of governments to set interest rates is just taken for granted. All modern countries have a central bank that sets the base rate of interest. What most people do not realise is that this is a very modern practice. For most of history, central banks did not exist, so do we need them now? (During medieval times, the church tried to control interest rates by prohibiting usury, but that was a disaster).

The more important question (normative economics) is whether it is morally right for the government to set interest rates. The answer to this question is obvious, if we think about other things we own. If the government tried to make me sell my house for $70,000, I would be very upset. If they set the price at which I could sell my car at $1000, I would be sure that was wrong.

Most people would prefer to put their house or car on the market and see what they could get. By forcing me to sell at a set price, the government is robbing me of the difference between that price and what I could get on the market. By setting the price higher than I could get on the market, it is robbing the purchaser of the difference between the set price and what I would be prepared to sell it for.

The ability to set prices, allows the government to rob one person for the benefit of another. Setting prices is a form of theft.

By setting the price of money, the government is stealing from some people, for the benefit of others. By setting the price of the future, the government is robbing some people of part of their future to benefit others. Those who benefit are the bankers and financiers who get access to cheap money. Those who suffer are the people on fixed incomes who cannot adjust for the resulting inflation. Government controlled interest rates are just another form of theft.

The modern practice of authorising a central bank to set interests is morally wrong, so it should be opposed by Christians.

Don't cry Ben, but you are overseeing a sysstem of theft.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The State and Virtue

It is furthermore particularly grotesque to place the guardianship of morality in the hands of the state apparatus — that is, none other than the organization of policemen, guards, and soldiers. Placing the state in charge of moral principles is equivalent to putting the proverbial fox in charge of the chicken coop. Whatever else we may say about them, the wielders of organized violence in society have never been distinguished by their high moral tone or by the precision with which they uphold moral principle (Murray Rothbard)
If all human nature be corrupt, it is needless to strengthen the corruption by establishing a succession of kings, who be they ever so base, are still to be obeyed… No man since the fall hath ever been equal to the trust of being given power over all (Thomas Paine)

History of Government (6) - Judges

Moses brought about another important innovation in government. He established a system of honest judges to apply God’s law. Previously all disputes had been settled by tribal leaders.

In the wilderness, responsibility for hearing all cases fell to Moses, as he was the wisest leader. He was challenged by his father-in-law Jethro, who could see that Moses would be exhausted, if he continued with this huge responsibility. Moses needed a wake up call because he had missed God’s purpose (Ex 18).

The Bible is very precise about what Moses did.

So I took the leading men of your tribes, wise and respected men, and appointed them to have authority over you—as commanders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens and as tribal officials (Deut 1:15).
Moses organised the nation into an army structure of tens, hundreds and thousands, based on family and tribal affiliations. This military style organisation was essential, while the nation was marching to the promised land. He then took wise and respected tribal leaders and made the commanders over the tens, hundreds and thousands. The word commander is a military term.

These military commanders were the wisest people in their families and tribes, so they also served as judges.
They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves (Ex 18:26).
The important innovation that Moses made was to introduce performance standards for role of judging.
And I charged your judges at that time: Hear the disputes between your brothers and judge fairly, whether the case is between brother Israelites or between one of them and an alien. Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of any man, for judgment belongs to God. (Deut 1:16-17).
Judges are acting for God, the perfect judge, so they must demonstrate wisdom and integrity. They must not be motivated by the fear of men.

This standard gave the people the freedom to take their cases to the judges with the greatest wisdom. If a judge made a bad decision, they could appeal to a judge with greater reputation for wisdom. This standard ensured that the best judges would be recognised and widely used.

The earliest judges functioned within a tribal environment. They would start off as leaders in their families and sub-tribes. The wisest of these local leaders would become judges. The best judges would rise to be appeal judges for their entire tribe.

This aspect of God’s government has never been revoked. The heart of godly government is wise judges applying God’s law.

Friday, January 25, 2008


The problems faced by the US economy were mostly caused by “easy credit”, so they will not be resolved be resolved by more “easy credit”.

Sub-prime borrowers have bought houses that they cannot afford with borrowed money. Borrowing more money is not the solution to their problem. The only solution for those who cannot hang on where they are would be to sell up and move to housing that they can afford.

Easy credit has allowed US consumers to spend a large on their credit cards. If they have bought SUVS and LCD TVs that they cannot afford, they really need to learn to live with in their means. Easy credit will only encourage more unwise behaviour.

Easy credit allowed Investment Banks to wrap up mortgages into collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and sell them to investors all round the world. The problem with these CDOs is that borrowers are defaulting on the mortgages and no one knows who is carrying the risks. Easy credit will not solve this problem. The only solution is for the investment banks is to unwind some of the links and decide who owes what to whom and establish who will bear the loss. May the bankers who have earned million dollar bonuses will bear some of the pain.

Easy credit has allowed hedge funds and others to undertake leveraged buy outs (LBOs) of large listed companies. If some of them have paid too much, more easy credit. They will just have to take their losses on the chin and the price for being in what has been a profitable.

Easy credit has allowed bond insurers like Ambac and MBIA to provide credit insurance way beyond the value of their capital. Insurers should be able to make good decisions about the size of risk. If they have been getting risk wrong, easy credit will just reward their mistakes. Taking their losses might be better education.

Easy credit has allowed business to expand without increasing their equity. They have been able to get the benefits without paying the price, but reality is now catching up. More easy credit will not strengthen their balance sheets.

George Soros says that the “era of superleverage” is coming to and end. He is probably right. Easy credit has allowed households, businesses and bankers to be heavily leveraged, without understanding the risk, but this is not the way of blessing.

You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. The LORD will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the LORD your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom (Deut 28:12-13).
Providing easy credit is like providing “another drink” to an alcoholic. It does not help them to get off the wagon. Banker Ben is the disease of the US economy, not the cure.

Of course, "Will it work?" is the wrong question (positive economics). The really important question is, "Is it morally right? (the normative issue). I will answer that question tomorrow.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

History of Government (5) - Prophetic Moses

Moses was not a law maker. He had a prophetic role in the giving of the law. He received the law from God and passed it on to the people. His skill was in hearing God, not in making laws.

Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. (Deut 34:10,11).
The prophetic role included signs and wonders when confronting Pharaoh with God’s words. The most important aspect of this prophetic ministry was hearing God speak and the most important words that Moses received was God's law.

This is another role that was completed with Moses. God’s law is perfect, so he only had to give it once. Joshua did not have this role. Jesus said
I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished (Matt 5:18).
Many men and women succeeded Moses in the office of prophet, but they did not have the role of law giving. That was task was completed with Moses. Even Jesus did not have to change the law; he simply fulfilled some of it on our behalf.

The role of law-giver finished with Moses, and even his role was not one of law making. His task was to pass God’s law on to the people.

The role of law maker does not exist in the scriptures. All that is needed is judges to apply the law that God has given.

Banker Ben sets the Price of the Future

Banker Ben has just reduced the US Fed Funds rate to three and a half percent.

The interest rate is the price of the future. It is the price we have to pay to bring purchases out of the future into the present. From the other side, it is the price that people get for postponing their spending to the future. By raising the interest rate, he made the future cheaper and the present more expensive. But how can a banker who cannot predict the future set its price?

In medieval times, the church set the price of bread (the so-called just price). This caused enormous problems, as at times the price was set to low and there were bread shortages. At other time they set the price of bread to high and there was plenty of bread but people could not afford it. One of the benefits of the Reformation was that the church got out of the price-setting business and let the market set the price of bread.

The communists in the Soviet Union missed the lesson and attempted to control the price of bread for most of the twentieth century. The result was enormous shortages and people queuing for hours to get a loaf of bread.

If bishops and presidents could not set the price of bread without making mistakes, how can Banker Ben, even if he has been to Princeton, determine the price of the future. A truly wise man would leave the American people to make their own guesses about the future and decide what price they are willing pay to bring it forward.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

History of Government (4) - Moses

A new role of military leader emerged with Moses. During 400 years of slavery in Egypt, Israel has developed into a nation. God chose Moses to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt into the promised land. This would not be easy, because the Egyptians did not want to lose their slaves, the Canaanites did not want to lose their land and the nations in between were afraid of the nation on the move. Moses was primarily a military leader with responsibility for leading the armies of Israel into the new land. This was the first time that the tribes of Israel acted together to form a combined army.

Moses had been trained as a leader in Egypt, but after a false start he escaped to wilderness, where he was called by God. The calling was clear.

The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey... So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt" (Ex 3:7-10).
God appointed Moses to be a military leader to bring the nation out of Egypt into the Promised Land. He was not called to be a king and his position was not a permanent one. Moses died when he had led Israel up to the edge of the promised land. Joshua was anointed to take Moses’ place and finish the task (Deut 31:1-8). With God’s help, Joshua conquered the promised land by defeating the kings in the South and then the kings of the North. He then divided the land among the tribes and families. The completed the task that Moses had begun.

No successor was appointed for Joshua (Jos 23). The reason is that the task that Moses started was now completed. Israel no longer needed a military leader. God had promised that if Israel obeyed him, he would keep them safe from their enemies (Deut 28:1-7). The Moses/Joshua model was not the optimal form of government. It was a temporarily military leadership model for a unique situation, which has not occurred again.


Globalization is not a great conspiracy to harm innocent people, but a part of normal human development. It is the natural outworking of improvements in communication and transport.

Two hundred years ago, everything that a person could consume had to be produced in their village. Only the rich could afford Chinese silk or Indian tea. Life was pretty mean for ordinary people. I would not want to go back to that.

Improved communication and transport now gives ordinary people access
to a vast range of goods and services that our ancestors never dreamed could be possible. At the same time the expanded division of labor has dramatically reduced the cost of most the stuff that we buy, improving the well being of almost everyone.

The people of Detroit are currently feeling pain, but so did the people that made carriages, and harness, when cars replaced horse transport. Change always means pain for some, but we cannot lock history in the past. I don’t like horses that much, so I pleased that we no longer depend on them for transport.

There is nothing that Washington can do to prevent globalization. They cannot stop the Chinese from making television sets and they cannot stop American consumers from buying them if they are cheaper than American made ones. The only way that Washington could stop globalization would be to start a world war that disrupts global transport and communication, but who would want that?

Walmart is not the enemy. If Walmart was not importing cheap goods from China (almost all retailers are now doing the same), the pain being felt by poorer Americans would be much worse. If Americans could only buy American made, they could not afford their current lifestyle.

Americans get upset about their jobs moving to China, but they forget about what the Chinese are giving to them.

Although very poor, the people of China are effectively forced by the Chinese monetary authorities to save about half of what they produce (via an undervalued currency). The Chinese government has channeled those saving into US Treasury bonds. The money then feeds through the American financial system to the credit cards of Americans. The result is that ordinary Americans have been using the savings of the Chinese to pay for their consumer goods. If this pattern stops the Americans will feel as much pain as the Chinese.

So as well as providing Americans with cheap goods that they could not otherwise afford, the Chinese are also providing the savings so that they can buy goods that they cannot afford. They should not be to indignant about them.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

History of Government (3) - Tribalism

Abraham introduced family government to his extended family. This included providing work and income. He had an obligation to defend his family if they were attacked. He would settle disputes between different members of his family. This was tribal government. Abraham was an effective leader of his tribe, but even he got it wrong at times.

Family government has never been nullified by God. Families should still be providing protection and resolving disputes between their members.

Tribalism tends to get a bad press in the modern world. We forget that God established a tribal system and gave it his blessing. When the children of Israel went into the promised land, the entered as tribes. The tribes were allocated separate areas in Canaan.

Many Christians love this promise.

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms (Deut 33:27)
Few notice that Deuteronomy 33 records God's blessing on the tribes of Israel.

God has promised to bless a tribal system. He has never promised to bless democracy. That should set us thinking.

American Economy

Americans are becoming increasingly worried about the shap of their economy, so the presidential hopefuls are jumping on the bandwagon. Bill Bonner has the following thoughts.

President Bush is pushing a plan to give the country a “shot in the arm” – at a cost of $150 billion. If Congress would just get behind this thing, he says, we could have rebate checks in the mail in just a few weeks. Our president misses the point. He, like all the White House hopefuls, wants to keep the phony boom alive – in the worst possible way, by providing more “stimulus” to consumers...that is, by helping them spend even more money they haven’t got on things they don’t really need. What this perverse economy really needs is not a shot in the arm, but a shot in the head.
Over the past few year, the world has been awash in money flowing out of the American Federal Reserve. This cheap and easy credit has created all sorts of distortions in economies throughout the world. Now that that easy credit is drying up, these same economies are starting to starting to creak in their joints. The solution is not more cheap money and easy credit. The world will have to "dry out" and live within its means.

Monday, January 21, 2008

History of Government (2) - Nimrod

The first human civil government to emerge was established by a man called Nimrod.

Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD.” And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went to Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah (that is the principal city) (Gen 10:8-12 NKJV).
Nimrod became the most powerful warrior on the earth. He established his kingdom in Babel and the surrounding towns. This is the first mention of a kingdom in the Bible. The name Nimrod comes from the expression “we will rebel”, so when the Bible refers to Nimrod “before the Lord” it means in opposition to the Lord.

Nimrod extended his kingdom to Babylon and Nineveh. This makes Nimrod the grandfather of all the early kingdoms and empires on earth. They were started by a rebel against God.

The fruit of this rebellion was the tower of Babel.
Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth" (Gen 11:4).
Nimrod’s followers hoped to build a tower to heavens and make a name for themselves apart from God. This was the ultimate rebellion against their creator. God had no choice but to destroy this human government.
So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city (Gen 11:8).
Human government started in rebellion against God. We must be very careful about human government, because it has its roots in rebellion against God.
God’s law produces Justice
Man’s law leads to Tyranny

Sunday, January 20, 2008

History of Government (1) - In the Beginning

What is the best form of government? This is a really important question. The Bible describes a number of different systems and most are condemned. We need to dig deeply to find God’s optimal form of civil government.

There was no need for government in the Garden of Eden. Everyone obeyed God, so there was no conflict. Sin had not yet entered in, so there was no theft or violence. Human government was not needed.

Once Adam and Eve sinned, crime and violence became a problem. Initially these problems were dealt with by families. Fathers are required to teach their children to obey God and live in harmony with each other. They must provide for their children and resolve disputes between them. I presume that Adam and Eve had no choice, but to send Cain away. That was his penalty for murder.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Divided States of America

Danny McDonald has a thorough review of Dr Richard Land’s book called The Divided States of America. He summarizes the books by quoting these words.

What’s God got to do with America? Well, not everything
but far more than liberals think,
and a lot less than conservatives may assume,
in much different ways than either side acknowledges,
and for far more important reasons than you might imagine.
The book sounds interesting, but it does not seem to get to the real issues. Richard Land recognizes the struggle between liberals and conservatives, but does not come up with a realistic solution.

The problem is that in a democratic and pluralistic society, one group will end up imposing its views on the rest of society.

If the secularists win power, they will impose their views on Christians. A world view devoid of God will be taught in the schools. Christians will hate this situation.

If Christians win at the ballot box, they will impose their values on the secular part of society. This will make the liberals unhappy and God quite uncomfortable.

The real issue is that democracy is a tool for the majority to impose its values on the minority. We need to be asking if we want a system where that can happen. We need to be asking about what is the role of the state. For example, should the state be involved in education, because as soon as the state takes on this role, it starts imposing the values of the majority onto the children of the minority? Democracy then becomes a tool for making sure that my values win out in that struggle.

Pluralism and Democracy do not mix. You can only have one or the other.

If God has a choice between pluralism and democracy, I think that he would prefer pluralism. I can find no support in the scriptures for democracy, but by putting the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden, he opened up the way for pluralism. I realise that his first choice is for the earth to be filled with his glory as the waters cover the sea, but his people have not really got hold of that one.

So if pluralism is preferred, then any political system that allows a majority (whether Christian or secular)to impose its values on the rest of society does not cut the mustard. That means that political activity must be limited to things which almost everyone agrees on, which rules out education and social welfare. It probably limits government to limited defence and the punishment of theft and violence, because as soon as the political activity goes beyond these, it gets into the business of imposing values on unwilling people.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Freedom and Virtue

Men cannot be forced to be free, nor can they even be forced to be virtuous. To a certain extent, it is true, they can be forced to act as though they were virtuous. But virtue is the fruit of well-used freedom. And no act to the degree that it is coerced can partake of virtue — or of vice. (Frank S. Meyer, In Defense of Freedom, Chicago 1962, p. 66).
If I am forced by the state to assist the poor, my actions have very little moral value.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Jesus is President - Can you say it.

We like to sing and proclaim that Jesus is Lord, but our words may not mean anything. We no longer have Lords in our society, so we do not know the meaning of the word Lord.

When pledging allegiance to our political leaders, we call them president or prime minister. We pledge allegiance to the kingdom of God by saying Jesus is Lord or King. The truth is that we have pledged allegiance to two masters. We justify this divided loyalty by calling one king or lord and the other president or prime minister.

If my nation has a king and I have pledged allegiance to him, it would be quite hard to call Jesus king, because it will be obvious that I have divided loyalty. If I believe Jesus is king, it would be hard to pledge allegiance to a human king, because I cannot serve two kings. However, we just dont get this dilhemma, because we do not have human kings.

King Herod understood that a people cannot have two kings. When he heard that a king had been born, he knew he had to kill him. Israel could not have two kings. Herod knew that if a new king came to power, one of them would have to go. Herod decided to get in first.

In America, where people have no experience of kingship or lordship, “Jesus is President” might be a better paraphrase of “Jesus is Lord”. However, it would be hard to pledge that "Jesus is President" as it would exposes a divided loyalty. A pledge of "No President but Jesus" would be a subversive statement, because a republic cannot have two presidents.

Could you say, Jesus is President. Jesus is Lord is much easier, because it does not mean as much.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Marginal Price

The market price for any good or service is determinied at the margin. Only the marginal purchaser pays the maximum price they are willing to pay for it. That means that most people are able to purchase the goods they want for a lower price than they would be willing to pay for them. Likewise most producers are able to sell the goods they produce for a price that is higher than the minimum they are willing to accept. That should make us all feel good.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Normative Economics

Christians have an absolute God, who has revealed his standard of ethics. Since we do have absolute ethical standards, so we should have made Normative Economics our home. However, we have been quite slow to take up the challenge.

Worse still, I find that most Christians approach economics in a pragmatic way. They ask what will work. What will produce the desired outcome? What policies will produce economic growth? However, this is the approach of those stuck in Positive Economics. What will work does not matter for Christians. What matters to us is what is right; even if it does not work well. The fact that a market system is very productive does not make it right. The fact that market system produces inequality does not make it wrong. These are questions about what works. Christians should be asking what is right, according to God’s standards.

I see most economic issues as ethical questions: what should be done. This is Normative Economics. Christians have God’s standard of what is right and wrong, so we are in a great position to do say what should be done. Our question about every economic policy should be this: Is it morally right? Does it comply with God’s word?

A good economic policy is one that complies with God’s ethical standards. The irony is that the right economic policies may not achieve the goals that many politician’s desire: fast economic growth or equal income distribution. However, Christians should always be advocates for the right policies, not effective policies.

In the long term, obedience to God will lead to blessings, so everything will be okay, but it the short term, the right economic policies may make people worse off. However, they are sill the right policies. God’s way is the best way.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Positive Economics

Economists like to distinguish between Positive Economics and Normative Economics. Positive Economics describes how things work. For example, if prices go up, demand will go down. Normative Economics describe what should be. Normative Economics seeks an ideal economic system.

When I was training in economics, my teachers all preferred to concentrate on Positive Economics. Having no absolute ethical standards, they really had no option to stay with Positive Economics. They said they would leave the politicians to decide what should be done, while they concentrated on working out how it could be achieved. A few Marxists did get into Normative Economics, because they had an ethical system (or at least an historical imperative) which allowed them to make assessments of economic programs and system.

In some ways that avoidance of Normative Economics was an embarrassment. An economist who cannot tell you what should be done is not much help. So in recent years, economists have sneaked back into Normative Economics. One approach has been to use cost benefit analysis. An economic program is good, if the social benefit exceeds the social costs. The fact that measuring social costs and social benefits is practically impossible is conveniently ignored.

Economists have also used Positive Economics as a backdoor in to Normative Economics. For example an economist will do a study to decide which level of tax is most efficient, in terms of gathering the most revenue for the least loss of production (the Laffer curve is an example). This is positive economics, because it is looking at the effects of particular problems. However, once the most efficient tax rate has been decided, it suddenly becomes something that should be implemented. Positive Economics morphs in Normative Economics without anyone noticing.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Boyd on Government

Although Greg Boyd was on his sick bed, he had some cogent thoughts on the role of government. He says that government is controlled by Satan and his rebellious principalities and powers.

All top-down forms of government -- which means, pretty much all governments -- are evil....

Unfortunately, the elite and powerful benefit from the present hierarchical political and economic systems and the masses have been brainwashed to believe that they need to be ruled. The masses fear freedom, which is why they surrender autonomy over to alleged superiors. (In totalitarian regimes, people surrender autonomy by allowing the regime to go on. In democracies, they surrender it with a vote -- .... a means by which a government gives citizens the illusion that they're empowered).

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Consumer Preferences and Holiness

What are the standards for Christians participating in business activity?

Some actions are sinful. Some are unlawful. The standard of holiness is higher than the standard of the law, so some actions that are legal may still be sinful. The standard of the law is intended for restraining the worst evil, so is not as demanding as the standard for a holy life.

Economists say that people make purchases based on their preferences. I do not like this expression much. I believe that we make purchase decisions based on our moral character. Some preferences may be sinful, even if the opportunity is legally available on the market. Gossip magazine may be available, but reading them might be sinful.

Christians should ensure that their moral character is holy and good.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things (Phil 4:8).
As we allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives, our character should be transformed. That should translate into preferences that are holy and good. As the number of Christians increases and as they are transformed, the range and price of goods and services being purchased should change significantly.

Many economists say that businesses can produce whatever they can sell on a free market. That may be lawful, but this is not the appropriate standard for Christians.
Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life (Phil 2:15,16).
Paying miserly wages to very poor people not be unlawful, but it may be sinful. Producing fat-laden potato crisps may be not be unlawful, but it could be sinful if they will harm the people that eat them.

The law deals with evil people. Christians should be living by a higher standard. Whether acting as producers or consumers, we must not assume that an action is okay, because it is lawful. The fact that something is available from a market, does not make it right (markets cannot make moral decisions). Morality can only come into a market through people thinking about the morality of their decisions and actions.

Christian economic behaviour should not be driven by our preferences or the market, but by what is "holy and good".

Friday, January 11, 2008

Tribalism and Democracy

Watching events in Kenya and Pakistan we tend to assume that tribalism is a problem. This is a distorted view of events.

The real problem is democracy. Under democracy, the winner of the elections gets control. This "Winner takes All" principle means that it is really important for your party to win an election.

In western societies, businesses want the party of business to win. Unions want the labour party to win. When the Labour Party won a recent election here, the new finance minister said to businessmen, "We won, you lost, eat that!"

In a tribal society, it is really important that your tribe wins the election, because the winner takes all power. The winning tribe gets all the perks and the losing tribes will pay.

A system that is based on a Winner Takes All principle is morally deficient. That is why democracy is the problem.

Tribalism tends to get a bad press in the modern world. We forget that God established a tribal system and gave it his blessing. When the children of Israel went into the promised land, the entered as tribes. The tribes were allocated separate ares in Canaan.

Many Christians love this promise.

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms (Deut 33:27).
Few notice that Deuteronomy 33 records God's blessing on the tribes of Israel.

God has promised to bless a tribal system. He has never promised to bless democracy. That should set us thinking

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Free Markets and Democracy

I get frustrated when Christian authors assume that Free markets and Democracy are two pillars on which to build a Christians society. They just assume that these have equal moral value.

The truth is that these two are not morally equivalent. A free market is a place where people can offer to sell things and purchaser can choose whether or not to buy what is offered. There is no coercion.

Democracy is a mechanism for the majority of people to force their views on various minority groups. The people of Kenya understand this, while many in the West do not. Democracy is method for one group to coerce another into doing things that they may not want to do.

A free market supports freedom. Democracy reduces freedom. Therefore they are not of equal moral value. The former is desirable. The latter should be avoided.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Restraining Evil

The accepted wisdom says that we need government to restrain evil. I see many statements that go something like this:

This is a sinful world. Without government, we would end up in anarchy. God instituted governments to restrain evil.
These kinds of statement usually make a nod to Romans 13, but they never do any detailed analysis of what this passage actually means and they never give much thought to what is meant by “government. Going from Romans 13 to saying that God instituted government to restrain evil is a big jump.

The reality is that kings and governments often advance evil. The Kings of Israel constantly went off the rails and led their nation into evil. I can think of plenty politicians and presidents in the twentieth century who gave evil a big hand along the way. We need to give this more thought.

The bible actually teaches that God gave the law to restrain evil.
We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers (1 Tim 1:8-10).
Paul lists some of the most evil categories of people he can think of; murderers, adulterers, perverts, slave traders. These are the people we want restrained. Paul’s answer is that the law is for these people, and not for their enjoyment. If God’s law is applied, the evil people we fear will be restrained.

Applying the law, needs some judicial institutions, but these could be quite different from modern governments. One thing is clear. Restraining evil does not require or justify all the paraphernalia of modern government.

God gave the law to restrain evil. If we do not start there, we may end up in the wrong place.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Christian Pragmatism

The other thing that frustrates me about books on Christian Economics is the blind acceptance of the role of government. The writers just assume that government is the solution to any problem they discover.

Here is an example of the way that they argue.

People are created in the image of God so work is good.
Some people do not have work.
Government should provide work for them.
Here is another example
Every person has a right to share in God's provision their basic needs.
Some people do not have enough.
The government should assist the poor.
Whenever there is a problem, these writers just assume that more government is the solution.

I call this approach Christan Pragmatism. A problem exists, so government action is justified.

These authors never step back and ask what the Bible says about the role of government. They never identify what the scriptures allow governments to do. They never inquire to see if the Bible supports economic intervention.

This Christian pragmatism is theologically and intellectually irresponsible. It is also dangerous, because any government action can be justified. All that is needed is to find a problem to solve.

We are living in an age when government power is the ultimate idolatry. The next idol that God will smash is big government power. Christians should not be providing justification for this idol.

We cannot go far with Christian Economics, until we develop a theology of government.

Monday, January 07, 2008

People Failure

To claim that the market has not done something that it should is a nonsense statement. Markets cannot do anything. What the critic is really saying is the people have not done what they believe they should have done. The statement that the market does not produce enough health care, is really a statement that people do not purchase enough health care. The statement that the market does not produce enough jobs, is really a claim that people (either individually or acting together in corporations) do no produce enough jobs. The market does not decide the number of jobs that will be offered. The market cannot decide the volume of health care that will be purchased. People decide these things.

The common term for these perceived problems is “market failure”, but this is a misnomer. Markets cannot fail, because they cannot decide and they cannot act. What is called market failure is really "people failure". Those who talk about market failure are really describing people failure. They are saying they do not like the outcome of the decisions made by the various people participating freely in markets. (They are generally not criticising stealing or dishonesty by market participants, which is evil, not failure).

Blaming the markets justifies interesting solutions, because if markets fail, governments must do something to correct them. A little thinking exposes the nature of the solution. If the problem is “people failure”, then the critics of the market are really saying that they want to force people to make better decisions. For example, the solution to inadequate health care is to force people to purchase more healthcare, or to force other people to pay for health care for those who chose not to buy it for themselves. If people do not produce the right number of jobs, force them to invest their money in projects that will produce more jobs.

The advocates of the market failure doctrine do not like the decisions that people make. They believe that they can make better decisions on their behalf, so they want to force people to do what they believe is the right thing. So the market failure doctrine is really just a clever way of slipping in a process for the wise to force the unwise to make better decisions.

In a fallen world, people failure will be normal. People will often make suboptimal decisions. They will sometimes make decisions that other people do not like. Some people will made evil decisions. People might not produce everything that other people want.

If I need a silk-lined yak-fibre woven hat, I might not find one. I have three options. I could go without. I could make one myself. Or I could try and force someone else to make one for me. The market failure crowd prefer the last option, because they know best what is best.

They believe that they can eliminate “people failure”, but it does not occur to them that they might be the people failing.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Market Failure

During my summer holidays, I have read several books on Christian economics. Something that frustrates me about these books is the bland statements about what markets do and do not do. “The market does not produce enough health care”. “The market does not produce enough roads". These statements show that the authors do not really understand the nature of markets.

A market is not a moral entity that can be judged as right or wrong. A market cannot make decisions or take actions. A market is simply a place for information sharing. People provide information (including the price) of things they have for sale. Other people can look at what is offered and choose to buy if it is what they want and the price is right.

A market can take many forms. At a farmers market, sellers offer information by displaying what they have for sale. On Ebay, people display photographs and textual information about what they are selling. Whatever the form of the market, a sale is only completed, if both the buyer and the seller agree to the price.

There are three groups of moral actors involved in a market. First, there are the owners of the market. They set the rules under which the market operates. If their rules allow cheating or coercion, they are immoral. If people are not forced to sell on their market, then the price they charge cannot be immoral, because no one has to pay it.

The second group of moral actors are the sellers. They are morally wrong, if they sell stolen goods, or they lie about the quality of what they are selling. The third group of moral actors is the purchases. They are acting immorally if they pay for goods with counterfeit money, or if they use the threat of physical force to make someone sell at cheaper price. However, if both buyer and seller freely agree on the price, then nothing immoral has occurred. If someone who wants a good decides the price is too expensive, this is their privilege. The seller has not done anything wrong. The market itself is not a moral actor, because it does not act or make decisions.

Therefore to claim that the market has not done something that it should is a nonsense statement. Markets cannot do anything.


Modern man seeks rootlessness; his love of urban life is grounded in the desire for anonymity. When he shows a taste for rural life, it is not neighborliness and roots he seeks, but Nature, so that his anti-urban motives are as rootless as his urban life. The family means roots; it means relationships, responsibilities, children, parents, in-laws, relatives, and the rooted routine of a household.
R. J. Rushdoony

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Gems from the North (15) - No Christian Ayotollahs Please

Here is a quotation that is never used by those who like to cite Gary North as an example of a Christian Ayatollah.

What it means is that the long-term goal of Christians should be the preaching of the comprehensive gospel of salvation, including the supernatural healing of all institutions. Christians should also pray for and expect a huge revival, so that a vast majority of Americans will convert to saving faith in Jesus Christ. If this future postmillennial revival does not take place, then any attempt to establish a national covenant will fail, long-term. It is not our job as Christians to ram religion down everyone’s throat. We must recognize that if postmillennialism is wrong, then the pursuit of the national covenant really is utopian. Worse; it would require massive coercion or deception. We dare not imitate the deceptive strategy of James Madison and his national covenant-breaking accomplices. We also dare not be premature, as Cromwell was.

The first step is to adopt a slogan. Every revolution needs slogans. Here is mine: politics fourth. First comes personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (not just Savior). Second comes Church renewal. There can be no successful reformation of society without first beginning a reformation of the Church. Third comes family renewal. This involves pulling your children out of the public schools. Fourth comes local politics… From there we go to state and national politics. Before national political renewal can begin, we must first do what we can to make it clear to the politicians and the national government that a major religious transformation has already taken place. Without the widespread movement of the Holy Spirit, this cannot happen (Political Polytheism pp.558,559).
As the Christian humanist pendulum is swinging back to the left, I see Christians becoming more and more enthusiastic about using the power of the state to sort out the problems of the world. This is very dangerous. Without a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit, social transformation cannot come. We must not make the same mistake as Cromwell and rush ahead of the Holy Spirit. He does not want us shoving our religion down the throat of an unwilling world.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Gems from the North (14) - Political Polytheism

I will end this series with a couple of quotes from another book, Political Polytheism. At 660 pages long, this is not for those with weak arms, but it provides information about the origins of the American political system that you would not have got in your high school civics class. Everyone who is serious about understanding the American system should read it. Here is the warning at the beginning of the book.

Without biblical guidance from God’s covenant people, the whole world is now adrift in the rapids with a shattered rudder and a conked-out engine. That growing roar we now hear is ominous. Thus, a handful of Calvinist scholars and activists are today trying to make up for lost time and to recover lost intellectual territory before the turn of the millennium. We perceive that the whole world is in the throes of a massive religious, social, and philosophical upheaval, and the dominant ideologies of the last two or three centuries are no longer able to hold together the fragmenting center. What will be the new center? We know what it had better be: Jesus Christ. It does no permanent good to swing back from left-wing Enlightenment thought (socialism and social revolution) to right wing Enlightenment thought (capitalism and social evolution). (It will, however, increase per capita economic productivity and therefore per capita income.) We do not need a perpetual humanistic pendulum; we need a progressive manifestation of the kingdom of God in history.

In the midst of social and intellectual revolutions come major paradigm shifts. Entire worldviews change, and they can do so within a single generation. Judging from the extent of the visible turmoil today, as well as the intellectual turmoil, the next paradigm shift ought to be a whopper. We know that whatever philosophies today undergird world civilization are slipping rapidly. In fact, we are seeing serious attempts by scientists and social theorists to make slipping the basis of the next dominant worldview. The question is: What will be next? When the shift begins in earnest, Christians had better be in the paradigm marketplace with a table full of books and strategies containing principles for solutions to every major problem. A few manuals on direct action wouldn’t hurt, either.

Before this task can be accomplished, however, Christians must jettison the last three centuries of philosophical compromise. Baptized humanism has produced muddled thinking and worn-out, discarded humanist solutions to major social problems. It is time for a change. Let us pray that this change will be in time (Political Polytheism (1989 pp.6,7).
This was written in 1989, when the political pendulum was swinging to the right. That swing has now completed and the Christian humanist pendulum is swing back to the left. We are still seeing the worn out discarded humanist solutions to major social problems. I do not see much sign of the Christian books of strategies and solutions that we really need.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Gems from the North (13) - Comprehensive Gospel

The Great Commission is comprehensive – as comprehensive as all the sins that engulf the world. Redemption is comprehensive – also as comprehensive as all the sins that engulf the world. Therefore, biblical theology is equally comprehensive. It must include the principles – laws – by which society can and must be reconstructed. Any theological system that abandons the very idea of such principles of social restoration has understood neither the comprehensive rebellion of modern autonomous man nor the comprehensive redemption offered to him (Millenialism and Social Theory p.259).
When Brian McLaren says that we need a more comprehensive gospel, Christians get stirred up. I find it hard to get excited, because I have heard it all before. Gary North said something similar in the quote above way back in 1990, but was largely ignored.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Gems from the North (12) - Holy Spirit and Victory

The premillennialist expects the good times to come to earth when Christ returns bodily to overcome the weakness of the Church in history. What premillennialism ignores is the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. It also denies the doctrine of God’s irresistible grace. What the premillennialist ignores is the question of the two angels to the witnesses of Christ’s ascension: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven...?“ (Acts 1:11). Then the witnesses returned to Jerusalem to await the coming of the Holy Spirit. But premillennialist are still standing around culturally, gazing in hope at heaven. In the meantime, their pockets are being picked by the humanists. ‘Just keep on looking up,” the humanists tell them. “Let us know if you see something.”
Jesus said it was better that he went away, because then the Holy Spirit could come. He sent the Holy Spirit to establish his Kingdom of God on earth. The Holy Spirit can do more than Jesus could, either in his earthly ministry, or on his return, because the Holy Spirit has all the power of God, but is not limited to being in one place like Jesus.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Gems from the North (11) - Tremendous Opportunity

We have a tremendous opportunity today. We are seeing the death of a major faith, salvation through politics. While the rhetoric of the imminent, transnational New World Order is escalating, the economic vulnerability of all government welfare programs becomes more and more visible. The reality of modern political life does not match the reality, any more than the reality of Roman political life in the third century AD matched the messianic announcements on the coinage. Reality will soon triumph. Humanism as a rival religion is breaking down even as it asserts the apotheosis of the New Humanity.

Something must be put in its place. There is no neutrality. There can be no covenantal vacuums. The gangs of Los Angeles testify loudly to this. The Church, however, is not equally confident about this. Christians look at the religion of humanism as if it were unbeatable. They have forgotten what God does each time in history when covenant-breaking men begin building the latest Tower of Babel. They no longer believe in God’s negative corporate sanctions in history.

Churches today are not prepared for the coming of mass revival: theologically, institutionally, financially, educationally, or morally. If we get a mass revival, new converts will inevitably ask: “How Should We Then Live?” If this new life in Christ is defined as “meet, eat, retreat, and hand out a gospel tract,” the revival will leave one more egg on the face of God’s Church (Millenialism and Social Theory pp.326,327).
When this revival comes, I want to be able to answer the question: What will the economy look like in a society where most of the people are Christians?