All Commentary
Monday, May 1, 1989

Book Review: Beyond Good Intentions: A Biblical View of Politics by Doug Bandow

Crossway Books, 9825 W. Roosevelt Road, Westchester, Illinois 60153 • 1988 • 256 pages • $9.95 papeback

Doug Bandow, a syndicated columnist and Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, has written a book that will be of particular interest to devout Christians. Beyond Good Intentions offers an outstanding analysis of political philosophy based upon a cogent exegesis of Scripture from an evangelical perspective. Most of all, however, this book is a strong personal testimony that emphasizes aspects of Christianity and politics that other recent writ~ ers have largely ignored.

In the opening pages, Bandow explains how, in his opinion, a Christian should view politics. He shows how the current welfare system has failed, then examines viable alternatives in an excellent section called “The Need for a New Political Paradigm.” He concludes that Christianity outweighs any other world view because of its unique emphasis on individual morality. He states: “We live in a fallen world, and there is no answer other than personal redemption through Jesus Christ. All human institutions, including government, have been corrupted by man’s fall . . . . Christians cannot stand aloof from politics: quite simply, the stakes are too great.” Worldly ideologies and philosophies, Bandow believes, lack this outlook and, therefore, are deficient. These first three chapters are remarkable critiques, displaying Bandow’s ability and experience as a policy analyst.

Next Bandow presents several chapters of Biblical exegesis, followed by an examination of important issues concerning us today. He demonstrates ways in which the modern-day Christian, interested and involved in politics, can make sound and prudent decisions. The most important part of the book, however, is the last chapter, “Christian Activism in the Public Square,” in which Bandow sums up his views.

A Christian, he claims, should put Christ first. This may seem to be simple common sense, but he repeatedly emphasizes throughout the book the significance of being “Christian” before being “political.” Putting politics before principle results in the use of governmental force for religious purposes. A true Christian does not seek to use political power for religious purposes, and is possessed of theological views that are singularly Christian and take precedence over pragmatic policy-making. These are fundamental beliefs, or principles—the Christian’s intellectual tools or guidelines for acting in the secular world.

The most significant argument Bandow puts forth is that this personal, Christian attitude necessarily leads to a special view of government and politics, one that emphasizes responsibility, tolerance, and cooperation as the proper political demeanor of the Christian who seeks to live according to the compassionate and righteous example of Christ. Concentrating on this approach serves to safeguard private property and to promote a limited government that acts justly, rightly, and without privilege, according to the rule of law. As Bandow points out, this position allows for peaceful coexistence between Christians and other peoples.

The author admits that Christianity and classical liberalism share many attributes. Here again, however, Bandow reminds us he does not believe that secular philosophies have the necessary moral component to succeed, “resting as they do upon secular premises and ignoring Scriptural principles.”

What Bandow is getting at from a theological point of view is what Ludwig von Mises wrote of from a secular perspective in his book, Liberalism, in which he stated:

[classical] liberalism proclaims tolerance for every religious faith and every metaphysical belief, not out of indifference for these “higher” things, but from the conviction that the assurance of peace within society must take precedence over everything and everyone . . . only tolerance can create and preserve the condition of social peace without which humanity must relapse into the barbarism and penury of centuries long past.”

Peaceful coexistence is essential to the classical liberal. He believes that the best possible life can be lived within a society that allows for the private ownership of property and the free exchange of ideas and goods, a society that provides for lawful recourse in the event of wrongdoing. Consequently, the classical liberal believes in private property, political liberty, free enterprise, limited government, and the rule of law, but most of all, he believes in peace. He will tolerate another person’s views and actions, as long as no one is being harmed.

The Christian is concerned first with salvation, but, according to Bandow, salvation and eternal life with God are individual goals. The way to achieve those goals is through careful attention to Biblical instructions, Christ- likecompassion, and right and respectful action. The Christian believes in God as Creator and Designer and in Jesus Christ as His Son who came to redeem us from the bondage of sin. He chooses to seek salvation by accepting Christ, and is commanded by Scripture to do good. Faith in Christ’s redemptive power guides the believer during his life on earth. But, as Bandow says, “Jesus instructed His followers to leave the separation of the weeds and wheat up to the Father . . . .” A Christian must be tolerant, yet principled, persuading by good actions and intellectual power. In other words, Christian persuasion should be by peaceful methods, not by political force.

This book is an important work that clarifies the relationship between Christianity and politics. It is a spiritual message for those involved in the political arena who struggle with their faith in Jesus Christ, their commitment to civic service, and the proper way to use political power. And it is a sound political statement, reinforcing the concept of limited government, individual responsibility, private property, free trade, and the rule of law. Most significant, though, Beyond Good Intentions is a personal message by a man who believes in what he writes.

(Mr. Helstrom is a member of the staff of The Foundation for Economic Education.)

  • Carl Helstrom is the current Chairman of State Policy Network. He is Executive Director of The JM Foundation and the Milbank Foundation for Rehabilitation in Princeton, New Jersey. A graduate of Grove City College (Grove City, PA), he worked with free enterprise education and research organizations for more than ten years before becoming a consultant to several private foundations and joining JM and Milbank in 1997.

    Carl is also a Trustee of the A. P. Kirby Jr. Foundation in Mendham, NJ and a Director of The Roe Foundation of Greenville, SC. He and his wife, Jane, have three sons.