The Use of Scripture in Politics: A Comparison and Analysis of Jim Wallis and Wayne Grudem

The following is a paper submitted to Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the course ST 7505 Use of Scripture and Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in December 2015 in Deerfield, Illinois.

The full title of the paper is The Use of Scripture in Evangelical Political Proposals – A Case Study: Comparing, Contrasting, and Analyzing Jim Wallis and Wayne Grudem’s Use Of Scripture to Authorize Their Distinct Approaches to Economics.

Note: I’m not the proudest of this paper. Due to time restraints I was forced to write it in the timespan of merely two days. Nonetheless, I share it in case anyone may benefit from it by its prompting critical reflection. I only ask they you read with an extra dose of grace on this one. Thank you.


“Our guys won!” Those were the words of one of my fellow church members after Republican candidates largely swept their Democrat counterparts in the 2014 midterm elections. A neither small nor insignificant assumption was present in her statement: the Republican candidates were the evangelicals’ candidates; a victory for the Republicans meant a victory for Christendom.

Such a wedding of the religious right with the political right is not uncommon in the American evangelical consciousness, and, by extension, the perception of the popular culture at large. For example, if one listens consistently enough to Albert Mohler’s daily broadcast The Briefing,[1] one will be repeatedly “informed” that the ultimate difference between the political right and political left is one of worldview: progressive policies are spawned out of what is an unqualifiedly non-Christian worldview (either that or political liberalism is equated with theological liberalism) while political conservatism is described in such terms (and without nuance) so as to lead one to believe it is essentially a Christian (evangelical) worldview gone political.

One can trace this formalized “hypostatic union” of evangelicalism and republicanism—deeming theological conservatism and political conservatism “equally yoked,” and “deifying” the political right in the process—back to (at least) the emergence of the Moral Majority movement beginning in the 1980s with Christian leaders such as Jerry Falwell. However, authors such as Carl Trueman in his work Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative challenge this “sacramental union” as “accident” not “essence.” As Michael Horton writes in his recommendation to Trueman’s work,

Carl Trueman points out in his witty, provocative, and deeply well-informed way [that] the alliance of conservative Christianity with conservative (neoliberal) politics is a circumstance of our own context in U.S. politics—neither historically nor logically necessary.[2]

“Amen, amen!” says fellow Brit N.T. Wright:

The combinations of issues [i.e., the bundling up of certain political issues as “conservative” and others as “liberal” and binding evangelicalism to the former] seem to make sense in America, but they don’t make sense to many people elsewhere in the world. . . .[3]

[T]he political spectrum in the United Kingdom, and indeed in Europe, is quite different from the spectrum in the United States. In Britain, issues are bundled up in different ways than in America. What’s more, over the last forty years, those in the United Kingdom who have tried to integrate faith and public life have mostly been on the left of the spectrum, while those who have done the same in the United States have tended to be on the right.[4]

“The British are coming! The British are coming!” and they are challenging our American political-religious bundlings in the process.

But lest we think these Brits are just off their rockers, interestingly a 2007 study by Baylor Religion Survey found that the more frequently one reads the Bible the more likely one is to lean politically liberal on certain issues. And, statistically, those who read their Bible’s most were found to be evangelicals—the stereotypical political conservatives. Expectedly, frequent Bible reading correlates with opposition to abortion and gay marriage. But it also surprisingly (at least given the contemporary stereotype of evangelicals) has the effect of making readers more prone to agree with political liberals on issues like criminal justice, the death penalty, environmental conservation, and, most interestingly for the purposes of this paper’s case study, social and economic justice. These results hold true “even when accounting for factors such as political beliefs, education level, income level, gender, race, and religious measures (like which religious tradition one affiliates with, and one’s views of biblical literalism).”[5]

In short, the popular link in the American mind between political conservatism and evangelicalism is far from inherent or necessary. As we will see when we examine Jim Wallis and Wayne Grudem, honest, well-intentioned Christians disagree about how the Bible should be brought to bear on contemporary political issues. The “pervasive Biblical pluralism” of which Christian Smith speaks in The Bible Made Impossible[6] is no less true in the political arena. This may very well leave many evangelicals feeling a bit disheveled. The matter of thinking and acting Christianly in the contemporary political realm may not be as simple or clear as they once thought.

The Bible is used to advocate rather different things. As the poet William Blake wrote, “Both read the Bible day and night / But thou read’st black where I read white.”[7] Therefore, a mere appeal to scripture (or simply electing a “Christian candidate,” for that matter) does not ensure that the Christian faith is being brought to bear properly on a given political issue (remember, even the Devil cites scripture!). As Mark Noll argues in his piece, “The Peril and Potential of Scripture in Christian Political Witness,” “[P]olitical use of Scripture, even extensive use of Scripture, is no guarantee that any given political appeal will be meaningfully Christian.”[8] And the stakes are incredibly high here. As Krister Stendahl says, “There never has been an evil cause in the world that has not become more evil if it has been possible to argue it on biblical grounds.”[9] Consequently, one must attend, not just to that scripture is being used, but to how it is being used, establishing judicious criteria for what constitutes as proper use.

With that goal in mind, i.e., beginning to investigate what that proper use might look like, this paper will hone in on one particular contemporary political issue—economics—and consider how two leading evangelicals—Jim Wallis and Wayne Grudem—use scripture to advocate their rather different political positions.[10] The task of this paper is not to determine who, in my estimation, makes the better political arguments or who advocates more preferable policies, but, rather, to examine these authors’ use of scripture to authorize their political proposals. The purpose of this exercise is to facilitate intentional, critical reflection on how evangelicals ought to bring scripture to bear on contemporary political issues.

Jim Wallis: “We must exercise prophetic values; and that, of course, means being progressive.”

Jim Wallis self-identifies as a “traditional or conservative on issues of family values, sexual integrity and personal responsibility, while being very progressive, populist, or even radical on issues like poverty [and economics]. . . .”[1] He is pro-poor in social policy and tough on what he calls “corporate corruption and power.”[2]

Wallis argues that all political issues, including economics and policies directed towards battling poverty, should be viewed as moral (or religious) issues.[3] The manner in which concern for the poor is treated in scripture (e.g., its pervasive presence alongside daunting texts like Mt 25:31-46) demands this conclusion.[4] Not only so, but he strongly believes that scripture has immediate relevance to our contemporary economic issues. He says, “The Bible speaks of such things [‘the moral issues of the American economy’] from beginning to end. . . .”[5] He appeals to the prophets an example of those who brought God’s values to bear in public life[6] and frequently makes statements like the following: “The Hebrew prophet’s [i.e., Amos’] condemnation of the corrupt wealth of his era applies quite dramatically to our current situation.”[7] However, when time comes to advocate his specific economic proposals on the basis of scripture, Wallis’ use of scripture nearly always remains incredibly vague, general, and imprecise.

His most frequent use of scripture to support his proposals comes in the form of a vague reference to the prophetic writings collectively or to values he nebulously derives from the prophets generally. He explains this methodology when he states, “the place to look” for direction in navigating contemporary political issues is “the prophets” [no specification given],[8] and that the vision “put forward in this book for our contemporary society is simply the content of what the Old Testament prophets . . . had to say. . . .”[9] (Note: this characteristic use also suffers from what might be called “narrow selectivity”—failing to take into account other relevant texts, in this case, texts outside the prophets). At other times he merely cites or references a Biblical text without detailing or justifying its particular bearing on an issue (=proof-texting). For example, he cites the eschatological visions of Isaiah 10:1-2 and 65:20-25 as well as Amos 5:10, with no explanation, to advocate government programs aimed at the poor and to critique tax cuts for the rich.[10] Or again, at another point he broadly refers to Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah to suggest that “some regular leveling of riches in society was a consistent theme of the biblical sages.”[11]

Occasions do exist, however, where his employment of scripture in advocating policies is more concrete and precise. For example, on the basis of the Biblical doctrine of human depravity, Wallis is suspicious of too much accumulation of power either politically or economically. Consequently, he advocates for checks and balances in government and regulations for large corporations.[12] However, where Wallis does employ more specific applications of Biblical material, his uses could often use better justification or explanation. For example, he advocates debt forgiveness for extremely poor countries on the basis of the “biblical principles of Jubilee.”[13] But, one can easily ask, why transplant an Old Covenant law largely bound up with divine land promises and pertaining to one specific nation (not nations forgiving other nations) onto this contemporary issue of national debts?

One particular statement Wallis makes in passing proves incredibly insightful for understanding his general pattern (with few exceptions) of using scripture rather vaguely:

The Bible doesn’t propose any blueprint for an economic system, but rather insists that all human economic arrangements be subject to the demands of God’s justice, that great gaps be avoided or rectified, and that the poor are not left behind.[14]

In other words, Wallis (generally speaking) does not attempt to tease out specific details from Biblical texts for translation into contemporary economic policies (contra. some of Grudem’s work below). This is because he does not believe that this would fit with the nature of what the Bible is actually doing. Rather, Wallis understands scripture to be providing us with general values, e.g., justice, equality, concern for the poor. And it is these values that Christians must employ in their contemporary political engagement.

But one can easily conceive of nearly identical Biblical values being utilized to propose rather different economic policies (e.g., cf. Grudem). So how does one distinguish which proposals actually achieve poverty relief, for example? The answer, which Wallis only mentions occasionally, is what we might describe in theological terms as general revelation. He states, we must “assemble the ideas and practices that are already working [=pragmatism] to address and solve the problems of poverty.”[15] This means that “the debate over poverty [must] be disciplined by results [=statistics].”[16] Biblical values may establish the goals. But, presumably, political science and the study of economics (general revelation) will determine the means.

Even so, the Biblical integrity of the values he proposes seem somewhat questionable at times. This is due to (1) these value’s lack of substantial grounding in even a moderately detailed examination of Biblical texts and (2) Wallis’ tendency to present these values in a form generic enough to be acceptable among all religious communities alike. One becomes suspicious that the values he proposes are less drawn from the Biblical text and more so expressions of rather modern, generic notions of “the good.” This second characteristic especially raises the question, if non-Christians can sign on to these values without significant modification or qualification, what is distinctively Christian about them?

Wayne Grudem: “What do you know? The Bible’s Republican.”

Reading Grudem’s chapter on economics (ch. 9) in his Politics According to the Bible feels oddly similar to reading a section out of a recent Republican Party platform, except for maybe its appeals to scripture for warrant. His conclusions are rather stereotypical Republican. He states, “Republicans have tended to favor policies that seem to be more consistent with biblical teachings.”[1] He articulates essentially what some refer to as “Reaganomics.” He is a strong proponent of free market capitalism, limited market regulations, and low taxes. He defends small government, advocates only minimal use of government programs and aid, and seeks to leave as much to the private sector as he possibly can.

The title of his work is extremely telling: it promises an approach to contemporary political issues that is “according to the Bible” and “in light of scripture.” He presents his view as one derived directly from the Bible itself. See the following statements:

I argue [for my views] on the basis of verses in the Bible. . . . I am attempting to persuade others . . . that the points I am making can in fact be substantiated from a responsible use of the Bible.[2]

It is important to understand that I see these positions as flowing out of the Bible’s teachings rather than positions that I hold prior to, or independently of, those biblical teachings. . . .”[3]

Okay, so Grudem seeks to derive his political proposals from the Biblical text. But what does he do with the fact that many Christians use the same Bible to advance rather different political options (e.g., cf. Wallis)? To put the dilemma in Christian Smith’s terminology, what does Grudem do with “pervasive interpretive pluralism” as it relates to the use of scripture in politics? In short, Grudem denies it. He states, “There is widespread consensus throughout the world among evangelical interpreters regarding the most significant principles that affect a person’s view of the Bible and politics.”[4] He expresses a high level of hermeneutical confidence in his ability to relate the “sacred page” to the contemporary political scene: “Seeking to follow the Bible . . . is not at all impossible. . . . I think that this applies to the Bible’s teachings on civil government as well. These teachings can be understood. . . .” (58)

But despite his claims and attempts to the contrary, Grudem’s work seems less influenced by scripture and more driven by preconceived ideology than he seems willing to admit. For example, at one point he describes his views as “the Bible’s teachings about . . . economic productivity,”[5] despite the fact that he gives no explanation for how his particular view of economic productivity is at all connected to scripture. It is not uncommon for several pages to go by without a single reference to scripture—this in a book that claims to present positions “flowing out of the Bible’s teachings rather than” ones held “prior to, or independently of, those biblical teachings. . . .”[6]

Some occasional side comments reflect a more honest assessment of the underlying methodology at play in his arguments. At one point he states, “I admit that my evaluation here [his critique of the “fair tax”] is based much more on a set of practical concerns rather than on any clear principles from the Bible.”[7] Likewise he appeals to what is “realistic” (=pragmatism),[8] “what actually happened” (=statistics),[9] and the “study of economics” which provides us with “greater insight that helps us understand what happens.”[10]

Grudem’s section in which he argues that a nation’s economy is benefited by lower taxes on the rich[11] exemplifies this reappearing methodology—a methodology driven more by ideology than Grudem concedes and in which scripture plays a rather secondary role. In this section, Grudem discusses economic theory and statistics for six pages straight without a single appeal to scripture. In his final comments he pulls in scripture in order to support what he has already established on those grounds. He says, “the teaching of the Bible” is that “government should seek to bring economic benefit and economic growth to a society. . . .”[12] And since lower taxes on the rich stimulate economic growth, the conclusion is, of course, that scripture supports lower taxes on the rich. His argument could be presented in the following syllogism:

  • Premise 1: The Bible calls governments to support the economic welfare of society.
  • Premise 2: Lower taxes on the rich encourages the economic welfare of society.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, the Bible supports lower taxes on the rich.

Such an argument is a far cry from one “flowing out of the Bible’s teachings. . . .”

Nonetheless, despite this rather characteristic absence of scripture in his argumentation, portions of his work rest on—what is at times[13]—a more sophisticated use of scripture. I have identified five reoccurring “pillars” (i.e., foundational principles), which Grudem seeks to establish by means of scriptural warrant, and by which Grudem argues for things like free market capitalism, limited government market regulations, limited government programs, and low taxes. These reoccurring foundational principles are the following: the need to (1) value and respect individual human freedom, (2) promote (and not de-incentivize) work-ethic and individual responsibility, (3) abide by the principle of fairness (by which he means impartial or equivalent treatment of all alike), (4) protect private property and preserve property’s privatization, and (5) maintain a limited government and implement governmental checks and balances. Due to space limitations, only a representative sampling of Grudem’s uses of scripture to substantiate these pillars will be analyzed here.

Grudem argues that governments ought to abide by the principle of fairness, by which he means they should avoid partial or non-equivalent treatment of the rich or poor. He bases this conclusion on texts like Ex 23:3, 6 which prohibit treating either the poor or rich unjustly or with partiality.[14] However, if these verses establish a principle of justice, it is one of legal justice. Their aim is just rulings in Israel’s courts. There non-equivalent treatment would be unjust. However, interestingly, when one investigates verses that deal with matters of economics, one finds a different pattern: non-equivalent treatment is present; at times accommodations are made for the poor. For example, Sabbath and Jubilee years as well as gleaning laws disproportionately benefit the poor. Or again, the poor are permitted to offer sacrifices that are less costly than those of economic means (e.g., Lev 12:8).

Like Wallis, Grudem’s use of scripture at times suffers from narrow selectivity. For example, one wonders how Grudem’s principle of fairness would hold up under a close examination of 2 Cor 8:14 where Paul—dealing with poverty, mind you—uses a word that means “fairness” (ἰσότης), but employs it in such a way as to imply that what he means is a certain degree of “equality.” A similar selectivity occurs when Grudem fails to consider how Acts 2:44; 4:32—where a sort of communal sharing of possessions was practiced—relates to his rigid principle of private property.

Additionally, at times, Grudem fails to apply his pillars consistently. For example, due to the Biblical doctrine of depravity, Grudem exercises suspicion towards excessive, unchecked governmental power. But, in light of his general opposition to market regulations, it would seem that he fails to apply this suspicion equally to the accumulation of excessive wealth and power among large corporations. Or again, with respect to the Biblical emphasis on caring for the poor, Grudem says,

[I]t is right for Christians to do what they can to help those who are poor. Yet I am surprised to discover that few people seem to realize that these verses say nothing about civil government overcoming individual citizens’ poverty![15]

In other words, although Grudem is willing to take other values derived from texts that say nothing of government and apply them to the political realm (and even though he himself argues that it is the government’s role to promote the economic welfare of society),[16] when it comes to this value of caring for the poor, Grudem relegates it to the realm of personal ethics. (Beyond this, one should note that Grudem’s assertion that “these verses say nothing about civil government” is also highly questionable.)

A continual problem in Grudem’s use of his “pillars” is the lack of justification he gives for his specific positions when one of these principles comes in tension with another principle. For example, although he argues for the protection of individual freedom, he nonetheless recognizes some legitimate causes for its limitation (i.e., certain government functions). He even admits, “[I]t [i.e., freedom] cannot be an absolute right in light of other biblical teachings about the role of government.”[17] In light of this tension, he concludes that governments should “maximize” freedom, restricting it only where “a significant need” exists to do so and only “to the limited extent necessary to carry out legitimate functions of the government.”[18] But what constitutes as a “significant” need or a “legitimate” government function is apparently left to Grudem’s personal discretion. Or again, when Grudem’s principle of economic fairness (impartiality) comes into tension with the “need for government-supported welfare programs to help cases of urgent need. . . .”[19] one wonders by what criteria Grudem determines what is deemed “urgent.” For example, if it is appropriate for the government to fund “basic necessities of life” like education,[20] why does not something like health care constitute as a “basic necessity of life”? Or, finally, although Grudem defends the notion of private property, he nonetheless recognizes the government’s right to seize property (e.g., by means of taxation [Lk 10:25; Rom 13:7]) for certain purposes,[21] even admitting that “Private property is never viewed in the Bible as an absolute right. . . .”[22] But if the right of private property can come into tension with the government’s right to seize private property in certain situations, how does one know which right to prioritize in a given situation? And how does one know where to draw the line between them (e.g., why draw the line at capitalism and not socialism)? Grudem is never short of an answer to these sorts of questions (e.g., at one point he concludes that the need for market freedom trumps the need for regulations aim at environment conservation—what some Christians might call a value of “creation care”).[23] But his answers never provide explanations for how he methodologically sorts out these Biblical tensions. Rather, they appear to be dictated more by presupposed ideology than he is willing to acknowledge.

Meta-Analysis & and Suggestions for Moving Forward

In closing, some summative meta-analysis will be provided alongside some suggestions for ways forward to a better use of scripture in authorizing political proposals.

Wallis and Grudem’s distinct approaches to bringing scripture to bear on politics have their particular strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, Wallis fails to provide sophisticated engagement with the Biblical text. Beyond a few exceptions, his use of scripture entails no more than vague references to vague principles supposedly derived from the Biblical pages. In contrast, Grudem at least attempts more sustained and sophisticated treatments of scripture as he seeks to bring it to bear on contemporary politics.

The benefit of Wallis’s approach, however, is that he’s at least aware of the fact that the political policies he’s proposing are not the direct product of special revelation, but are determined very much by general revelation. His approach, therefore, can avoid “baptizing” his political ideology, i.e., equating it with the scriptural view. In contrast, by conflating what are largely ideologically derived politically means with what are Biblically derived political goals, Grudem somewhat falsely presents his political means as “according to scripture.” Wallis’ view, in other words, has at least the potential to exercise a more appropriate epistemological humility (realism?). The importance of this quality is not to be underestimated. As Noll warns,

The problem of Biblicism arises when a dogmatic profession to follow the Bible alone morphs into an inability to recognize, acknowledge or address the other influences that come to bear when interpreting individual texts of the biblical witness as a whole.

This, Noll states, leads unknowingly to treating the assumptions and influences one brings to the text “with the same authority ascribed to the Bible itself.”[1]

One begins to notice, despite claims to the contrary, how minor a role scripture actually plays at times in formulating political policies. Using the same Biblical text, our authors devise rather different Christian approaches to economics. This variegation seems to demonstrate that a much less direct or immediate, i.e., a much more indirect or remote, relation exists between scripture and a Christianly informed economic theory. It would appear that these differences emerge from the practice (whether conscious [Wallis] or not [Grudem]) of processing Biblical material through different theoretical-political ideological lenses.


David Kelsey, in his anatomizing of theological arguments from scripture, would describe these Biblical values and principles as “data” and the ideological grids, through which this data is processed, as the “warrant” for reaching one’s “conclusion” (i.e., the political proposals) on the basis of this data. In light of this anatomy, he remarks, “This reminds us that the move from D [data] to C [conclusion] is not necessarily a straight-line move.”[1]

Certainly some differences stem back, not to implementation via different theoretical grids, but to differences in how Biblical material is actually interpreted or construed. Nonetheless, many times differences in political proposals are explained, not by one approach being more “Biblical” than another, but by the ideological grids in place that determines how scriptural data is being employed. In other words, sometimes the differences aren’t hermeneutical—which view is more “Biblical”?—but political-strategical—how does one, informed by economics and the political sciences, enact Biblical values and principles in one’s contemporary setting?

An incredibly important, but often unrecognized, question involved in the use of scripture to authorize political proposals is, for what is scripture sufficient? Most Christians will recognize certain domains over which the Bible is not sufficient. For example, no reasonable Christian will argue that the Bible is sufficient for learning how to perform medical surgery. Scripture sufficiently provides us with all we need for certain things; but that doesn’t mean it tells us everything we might want to know about anything there is to know. The million dollar question then is, to what degree is the Bible sufficient for providing Christians the material they need to formulate contemporary political proposals? (Or, on the flip side, what role might other sources of knowledge and authority, such as the study of economics, play? And how might they relate to scripture’s authority?) In other words, understanding how the Bible can or ought to be used to authorize contemporary political proposals requires that one first consider for what purpose is the Bible given? How do we construe what the Bible is for? Certainly the Bible has at least some bearing on contemporary politics. But to what degree and in what way? The above analysis of Wallis and Grudem suggests that scripture’s bearing on politics may be more remote or indirect than is sometimes conceived.

Nonetheless, despite the importance of accounting for the (often unaccounted for) role of ideology in evangelical political proposals, much still depends on one’s treatment and use of scripture. The analysis and comparison of Wallis and Grudem above demonstrates consideration of the following to be particularly relevant: (1) which texts are considered pertinent and are brought to bear on a given issue (avoiding narrow selectivity), (2) how those texts are used to confirm particular Biblical values, (3) how those values are defined, (4) the consistency in which the values are brought to bear on various matters, and (5) how values are emphasized and prioritized, especially when they come in tension with other Biblical values.

One example—one pertaining specifically to consideration #3—will suffice to demonstrate the significance of these considerations. Both Wallis and Grudem appeal to the notion of justice to propose rather divergent policies. But—and this is no surprise—their notions of justice differ quite dramatically. Whereas for Grudem justice means fairness—an impartiality excluding non-equivalent treatment—for Wallis justice entails preferential treatment of the poor since, for him, justice opposes any economic system that facilitates grave economic inequality.

Consequently, more careful attention to methodology is needed in order to ensure better use of scripture. Three examples in closing will suffice—the first pertaining to consideration #2; the latter two concerning matters yet unaddressed at this point in the paper.

First, one must consider what Mark Strauss calls the “criterion of purpose.” [2] As I state elsewhere,

If one’s use of scripture to authorize theological proposals is actually going to authorize those proposals with the authority of scripture itself (a derivative authority), that use must be born out of the claims . . . of scripture itself (the locus of authority). Consequently, one’s appropriation of scripture for dogmatic and moral theological proposals [in this case, political, i.e., social ethic, proposals] must be based on the purpose, intent, or underlying reasoning of Biblical content, not its accidental, attendant, or purely descriptive features.[3]

The purpose, or “moral logic,” of a Biblical text determines how it can legitimately be used to authorize contemporary political proposals. And this purpose, as Strauss notes, may be fulfilled in ways different from the original cultural context of the Biblical text. The goal in using scripture properly, in other words, is not replication but appropriation.

Second, given the nature of scripture and its audiences, much of its use for politics will inevitably involve using scripture that immediately addresses personal ethics, not social ethics. This does not mean such texts are useless for politics, but only that, as Bauckham argues, the ethics they hold up may need to take different forms when employed in the social arena. Consequently, one’s use of such scripture for politics must account for the potential necessary differences that will result in its appropriation.[4]

Finally, one daunting question that remains ever-present in the use of scripture for politics is the question, how should (or shouldn’t) one use the Mosaic Law. Christopher Wright recommends giving attention to the following questions:

  • “What is the objective of this law?
  • What kind of situation did it intend to promote, or prevent, or mitigate?
  • For whose benefit or protection would this law operate?
  • Whose power would be restricted by this law?
  • What are the principles, priorities, and values that are instantiated in this law?”[5]

But in so doing, Wright does not propose a mere “principilizing” of the law. He suggests we should observe “how the whole fabric of Israel’s law and the socio-economic and political structures embodied in it constitute an overall paradigm of the kind of society God calls his people to be.” “Paradigms,” he notes, “by their very nature imply moving beyond the specifics of a particular case to discerning how the pattern adapts to different circumstances.”[6] In similar fashion, Buackham notes the following with regards to how one should handle the particulars of scripture when using scripture for politics:

The Bible is God’s message in, to and through very particular historical situations. Its universality must be found in and through its particularity, not by peeling its particularity away until only a hard core of universalities remains. . . . In other words, the Bible provides models of God’s purposes at work in particular political situations which can help us to discover and to implement his purposes in other situations. Such models, because they are highly specific, can often stimulate our thinking and imagination more effectively than very general principles can.[7]

One could go on at nauseam with further hermeneutical guidelines and suggestions—and they are needed. But due to space limitations, this project must be drawn to a close. It is this author’s hope that this paper—despite being unable to provide definitive answers or venture into fuller methodological considerations—can nonetheless serve as a starting point for further and better reflection on the use of scripture in authorizing political proposals.


[1] Albert Mohler, The Briefing,

[2] Carl R. Trueman, Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2010).

[3] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues, Kindle. (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014), 130.

[4] Ibid., 163–164.

[5] Aaron B. Franzen, “Survey: Frequent Bible Reading Can Turn You Liberal,” Christianity Today, October 12, 2011,

[6] Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2011).

[7] “The Everlasting Gospel,” in The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse, ed. D.H.S. Nicholson and A.H.E. Lee (Apocryphile Press, 2012), lines 13-14.

[8] Mark A. Noll, “The Peril and Potential of Scripture in Christian Political Witness,” in Christian Political Witness, ed. George Kalantzis (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 37.

[9] “Ancient Scripture in the Modern World,” in Scripture in the Jewish and Christian Traditions, ed. F. E. Greenspahn (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1982), 205.

[10] I have selected Wallis and Grudem due to their roles as (1) prominent and important yet (2) divergent evangelical voices in the task bringing scripture to bear on contemporary politics.

Due to the research limitations of this project, investigation will be limited to Wallis’ God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2005) and Grudem’s Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010). Admittedly, parallels do not always exist between everything Wallis and Grudem address. (For example, Wallis spends a whole chapter on international debt relief whereas Grudem’s discussion in this particular work is entirely limited to domestic policies.) This makes comparison less than ideal. Nonetheless, their respective methodologies utilized in relating scripture to a range of economic issues can be compared and contrasted.

[11] Wallis, God’s Politics, 74.

[12] Ibid., 73.

[13] Ibid., xxvii, 5, 35, 36-37, 225.

This is in opposition to (1) what he interprets as the privatization of religion by the political left and (2) the political right’s limiting what is considered a “moral issue” to abortion and the legal definition of marriage (see e.g., Ibid., 60–61).

[14] Wallis, God’s Politics, ch. 13.

[15] Ibid., 266.

[16] Wallis, God’s Politics, ch. 3.

[17] Ibid., 266.

[18] Ibid., 27.

[19] Ibid., 28; see also 72-75, 265.

[20] Ibid., 239, 247, 257.

[21] Ibid., 267.

[22] Ibid., 5, 264.

[23] Ibid., 273; cf. 271, 287.

[24] Ibid., 274.

[25] Ibid., 237.

[26] Ibid., 224.

[27] Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, 587; cf. 578-579, 586.

[28] Ibid., 56.

[29] Ibid., 13.

[30] Ibid., 56.

[31] Ibid., 285.

[32] Ibid., 13.

[33] Ibid., 307.

[34] Ibid., 307.

[35] Ibid., 298.

[36] Ibid., 296.

[37] Ibid., 298–301.

[38] Ibid., 301.

[39] Readers should be aware that, although attention is being draw to Grudem’s more compelling and satisfactory uses of scripture, he does indulge somewhat frequently in some rather deplorable proof-texting. For example, in one of his attempts to substantiate his individual freedom “pillar” (by which he means a bent towards libertariasm) he references texts like Gen 2:16-17; Deut 30:19; Jos 24:15; Mt 11:28; and Rev 22:17, which make reference to people’s capacity to make choices. From these texts that refer to a mere human capacity to choose, he infers that the Bible values (“honors and protects”) libertarian political freedom (Ibid., 91-92)a rather non sequitor argument.

[40] Ibid., 279.

[41] Ibid., 283.

[42] Ibid., 268–271.

[43] Ibid., 94.

[44] Ibid., 93.

[45] Ibid., 281.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid., 262.

[48] Ibid., 263.

[49] Ibid., 267.

[50] Noll, “The Peril and Potential of Scripture,” 43.

[51] David H. Kelsey, Proving Doctrine: The Uses of Scripture in Modern Theology (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1999), 125–134; see pp. 127 for quote.

[52] Mark L. Strauss, “Reflection by Mark L. Strauss,” in Four Views on Moving Beyond the Bible to Theology, ed. Gary T. Meadors and Stanley N. Gundry (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 294–295.

[53] Kirk Miller, “Ten Principles for the Use of Scripture in Dogmatic and Moral Theology,” November 29, 2015.

[54] Richard Bauckham, The Bible in Politics: How to Read the Bible Politically, 1st ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster/J. Knox Press, 1989), 7–10.

[55] Christopher J. H. Wright, “Reflection by Christopher J. H. Wright,” in Four Views on Moving Beyond the Bible to Theology, ed. Gary T. Meadors and Stanley N. Gundry (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 334.

[56] Ibid., 334–335.

[57] Bauckham, Bible in Politics, 12.


Albert Mohler. The Briefing, n.d.

Bauckham, Richard. The Bible in Politics: How to Read the Bible Politically. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster/J. Knox Press, 1989.

Grudem, Wayne A. Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.

Kelsey, David H. Proving Doctrine: The Uses of Scripture in Modern Theology. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1999.

Kirk E. Miller. “Ten Principles for the Use of Scripture in Dogmatic and Moral Theology,” November 29, 2015.

Krister Stendahl. “Ancient Scripture in the Modern World.” Scripture in the Jewish and Christian Traditions. Edited by F. E. Greenspahn. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1982.

Noll, Mark A. “The Peril and Potential of Scripture in Christian Political Witness.” Christian Political Witness. Edited by George Kalantzis. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014.

Smith, Christian. The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2011.

Strauss, Mark L. “Reflection by Mark L. Strauss.” Four Views on Moving Beyond the Bible to Theology. Edited by Gary T. Meadors and Stanley N. Gundry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009.

Trueman, Carl R. Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2010.

Wallis, Jim. God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2005.

William Blake. “The Everlasting Gospel.” The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. Edited by D.H.S. Nicholson and A.H.E. Lee. Apocryphile Press, 2012.

Wright, Christopher J. H. “Reflection by Christopher J. H. Wright.” Four Views on Moving Beyond the Bible to Theology. Edited by Gary T. Meadors and Stanley N. Gundry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009.

Wright, N.T. Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues. Kindle. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014.

One thought on “The Use of Scripture in Politics: A Comparison and Analysis of Jim Wallis and Wayne Grudem

  1. Hello Kirk, This is a very interesting paper on a difficult subject. It is obvious you “researched” for this paper. “Kirk, I’d give you all the grace you need” Per usual, your paper is well written and presented. HOWEVER, do not expect me to argue your paper one way or the other. God Bless Papa

    PS. We are looking forward to being with you and Annie next week end.


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