At the Christianity and National Security Conference, John Scott Redd Jr. spoke about the Reformed tradition’s views on statecraft.
John Scott Redd Jr.: Thank you, Mark. It’s an honor to be here with you all this afternoon and just to kind of manage expectations I am myself a biblical theologian so I’m trained in ancient languages and texts and so I’ll be kind of coming from a reformed biblical theological perspective and really talking about not so much national security per se but really talking more maybe about the idea of a sort of national integrity right or a national legitimacy that would provide a foundation for this topic that we’re talking about of national security. I’m not a stranger to national security I wasraised in a military family, my father was a flag officer and actually was a part of that group of figures who went over to negotiate that protection of Saudi Arabia from Iraq in the first gulf war and whatever with secretary Wolfowitz and other names of the bygone past and was involved in that. And so actually around my house there was a good bit of discussion about the legitimacy of these things you know why do we do the things that we do particularly as Christians? And it’s a thing that’s kind of informed the way that I’ve done my studies as a biblical theologian and it’s something that’s always kind of been in the background sort of what exactly is the theological or biblical foundation that we might look to for things like national security. If you’ve been in this space for any amount of time you’ve run into this habit that some Christians have of kind of starting with a policy platform and then finding bible verses that kind of support the thing that they already have concluded right and one of the things I’ve thought about as a biblical theologians okay so wonder if we look at these teachings out of this ancient text okay which truly is scripture, it truly is an ancient text, and drawing from the foundations of what it teaches what can we see about how we ought to think about the work of statecraft, how we ought to think about the work of religious liberty as Mrs. Patterson just talked about or how dowe think about things like national security. So, I want to start with a just a brief quote this comes from none other than Arthur Schlesinger in his book the vital center. Now this was written in 19 or published in 1949 but I think as you hear the quote, you’ll recognize that so much ofwhat he’s saying rings true of us today. He says we look upon our epoch okay as a time of troubles, an age of anxiety the grounds of our civilization of our certitude are breaking up under our feet and familiar ideas and institutions vantage vanish as we reach for them like shadows in the failing dusk. I think as we think about him writing in 1949 we almost want to giggle right and say well how quaint that he thought things were vanishing out of his grasp, little did he know what lay ahead for us. And yet I think it behooves us to think about what are the institutions what are the reasons for the institutions that we’re laying hold of, institutions like that of the state you know and what is our rootedness particularly as Christians what is our rootedness and what are the foundational ideas that inform these things that we’re reaching for, these things that we are grabbing at, and are they really fading away and will they fade away forever and so what I would like to do is actually go to scripture. Now I’m an Old Testament Hebrew bible person so I’m going to spend a lot of time there I’ll dabble in the epilogue from time to time okay that’s the New Testament but I’m going to spend most of my time in the Old Testament but just drawing out some of the philosophical assumptions that the authors of scripture have that might direct us a bit and how we think about some of the timeless truths that we need to keep in mind and consider as we’re talking about statecraft, in particular national security, and so I really want to lay a hold of four major issues.
The first one is the divine kingship, or the notion of divine kingship and the image of God. Okay so image of God could maybe be a second point, but I really want to talk about it in the way that it relates to God or the Lord as a divine king. We’re then going to talk about creation theology, you may think you know what that is but I might stretch you a little bit on that. So we’re going to talk a little bit about this idea of creation theology and then we’re going to talk about the reality of the final judgment okay and then lastly, even by the way is an Old Testament idea the reality of the final judgment. And then lastly what I want to talk about is the notion of not only loving God with all of your strength, right Deuteronomy 6 this is what Jesus interlocutors say is the greatest commandment and he doesn’t correct them he says yeah you’re right okay loving God with all of your strength okay and including loving your neighbor. And so, I want to look at these ideas as foundational ideas behind how we think about the state and how we think about national security. So for the Christian every question of human ethics does begin in one way or another with the character of God. Christian ethics, what is the Deuteronomy 6 love the lord your God with all your heart soul and strength, or the 10 commandments, or just notions of disadvantaging yourself to the advantage of others that whole idea, those ideas come out of the character of God that’s what the scripture teaches that because God has a certain character, we are to live in response to him we’re not trying to mimic him we’re not trying to be God we’re not trying to be him and yet he has told us to be like him, think of the Old Testament, be holy for I am holy right. Think of Deuteronomy 6 so we’re going to come back to you later, the lord is our God the lord is one so what you should therefore love the lord your God with all of your heart soul and strength but notice that loving comes out of his character who he is as one and as your God. Paul says this is true of Jesus too, Jesus emptied himself and therefore you ought to also think likewise about how you might empty yourself in order to love and to care for those around you. In other words our ethics are not arbitrary, they’re not something that stand apart from the character of God but rather they flow out of the character of God. And we need to go no further than the opening of the Bible, Genesis 1 where it says in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, that work of creation already is a kingly task, okay if you think about it for a little, while if you’re familiar with the ancient world are you actually just familiar with your bibles you know that building things is what kings do okay, no matter what the verb of building is that’s the kind of thing that a king does in the ancient world, even the end of the book of the epic of Gilgamesh ends with Gilgamesh reflecting on the city he has built and giving you its measurements and then the book just kind of ends with him giving his measurements right. Why is he doing that? Because he’s reflecting on his glory like Nebuchadnezzar might reflecting on his glory as it’s seen in his building campaign. And so, God is depicted in a similar way in Genesis 1. He’s building out his palace that is the heavens and the earth where he will reside and he puts in his palace there his image, right his image, it’s an interesting part of biblical theology that we are told actually not to make graven images right, we’re told not to worship idols and have them in front of us like the other nations. Why is that? Well Genesis 1 tells us God’s already given us the image right and it’s in humanity. And what does he do as soon as he creates humanity in his image? He tells him go out and fill the earth and subdue it, have dominion over it, that language of subduing and having dominion is kingly language and we shouldn’t be surprised by that because God’s divine creative character as king, right building the heavens and earth, he now puts upon his vice regents those are man and woman to go out and fill the earth and have dominion over it, is a kingly duty. Oftentimes when we talk about humans being made in the image of God, we talk about it as if it’s the reason why we ought to care for others and show them under or afford them a kind of dignity. And that’s absolutely true, but we have to remember it’s not merely that. I would actually argue that this idea of Imago Dei being made in the image of God, means that everything humans are doing can be understood within that vocation,, the way in which they’ve been made to fill the earth, and to subdue it that would include whether you’re a four-year-old child building with your blocks. I have five daughters, yes, five daughters, and when, you know when the older ones knock over the younger ones blocks what happened they scream and that’s not just because they’re being insolent, but they are trying to subdue the world, right this is a part of their humanness. And the same is true in the work of statecraft as we’re doing the work of the state we often ought to remember we are called as human kings as vice regents under the Creator God to bring order and substance to this place that God has made. And so, when we do the work of national security this is not just us protecting ourselves or protecting our own interests and I’m okay with that language but remember that’s not merely what it is. The work of national security should always be a part of this endeavor to bring order life-giving order according to Genesis 1 to the world around us. John Calvin a thinker in my tradition says this we are not to consider that men merit of themselves but to look upon the image of God and all men, to which we owe all honor and love, say that a man does not deserve even your least effort for his sake, but the image of God which recommends him to you, is worthy of your giving yourself and all your possessions. That’s what he’s saying there not only when we’re talking about our own countrymen, our own fellow citizens of a country, but also the countries with which we are interacting whether it’s in diplomacy or in national security, you ought to remember that they are made image of God, they are image bearers. Herman Bavinck another theologian of my tradition of the early 20th century puts it this way and he builds upon, he would reprimand me for saying merely that humans bear the image of God. Notice what he says is it’s not that the idea that the human being bears, or has the image of God, but that he is the image of God. We might even say what does it mean to be image of God? It doesn’t merely mean that you have reason or that you have self-consciousness or maybe people have said all kinds of things linguistic ability or passions or whatever those things might be. It’s not just that you have those things what does it mean to be image of God it means to be human. And that’s why this extends to the least as much as it extends to the greatest of humans. We see this in the world around us, the human world is a haunted world it’s inhabited by a spirit of progression and purpose and meaning, goals, hopes, fears, sublimity, and horror humans alone speak of things that can be considered wondrous but that can be also considered evil. And the biblical authors reject any notion that such categories can be merely understandable by this imminent frame as the philosopher Charles Taylor tells us. It can’t be merely understood because of our solidarity with the species, it can’t be merely understood by the functions of our biology, but it speaks to a reality beyond us, it speaks to the God whose image we bear the God whom we image. So, the notion of the image of God does not speak directly to statecraft and yet it ought to undergird the work of statecraft. It shines a light on the value of human reason volition agency and dignity and as we consider national security decisions as we make decisions about preemptive strikes as we think about how to deal with issues at hand and we’ve been talking about the complexities of that this whole afternoon it’s indeed complex because guess what humans are complex, but we shouldn’t shy away from the complexity of it but recognize that this is a duty, this is a job, this is a this is an inquiry worth doing because after all we are dealing with those made as image bearers, those who are made image of God.
And as a result we are reflecting that divine king and so that is a quite a high calling and as Christians who are involved in the work of statecraft and national security we ought to think highly of that calling and recognize this is a unique calling that we’re called to do. There’s a special kind of purpose and meaning to it and there’s great consequence to it. We can’t merely cite Romans 13 and say well after all God gave Caesar the sword, because guess what God as king will hold Caesar accountable. And you particularly those of you most of us in this room who live and operate within a system of a democratic republic right guess what? That means each one of you with your votes with your interaction with the things you do each one of you are little molecules on the hand of Caesar and we too will be held accountable for the way in which we steward those responsibilities and those gifts.
So, I start with this idea of the divine king and we made in his image, I want to move now to creation theology. Over the past 50 years or so there’s been a kind of reaffirmation of the connection between creation and the work of redemption in the bible. British theologian Gordon McConville says that creation is not one category while history politics and salvation are
Another, rather salvation is the restoration of how all things ought to be. What he means by that is that when we even talk about redemption, yes, we’re talking about the forgiveness of sins, yes we’re talking about repentance and a spiritual change that happens so that Paul can say something like new creation. But notice what Paul says when he talks about the act of your salvation, he says you are new creation, there is a restoration to the way things ought to be. You see the understanding here and there’s an understanding throughout the Bible that can feel kind of strange to us but is that when God creates the heavens and the earth he doesn’t just make them and then kind of leave them to operate in their own manner, but what he does is he actually infuses them with his character and with his values, his character and with his attributes. This shows up throughout wisdom literature, which by the way if you’re looking for public theology in the Bible it is wisdom literature the book of Proverbs primarily but also Ecclesiastes and parts of Job are literature that is written for the purpose of operating in a public square in a public space. Okay, but notice how the author of Proverbs for instance Solomon and the early parts and then other authors later, notice how they talk about wisdom. Wisdom is something that you glean not merely the foundation of it is fearing the lord which is pursuing him in his commands but not merely through that you also learn and you glean wisdom through creation, go to the ant you sluggard and learn how to be industrious right. You look at a lizard on a rock okay whatever that means right okay oh go you know go out and look at the sky, go out and look at the things that you see around you and it’ll teach you about the character of God. The idea being here that when God made the earth the heavens and the earth what did he do he imprinted himself on it he put his fingerprints on it he called it good and notice even after the fall he doesn’t render that judgment moot creations never made ungood but it’s good and it reflects his character. As a result when God does mighty works of judgment and redemption creation changes you get earthquakes the sky goes dark sometimes bodies are sprung out of their tombs okay and one of the most interesting parts of the gospel when Jesus dies on the cross remember that some of the saints it says sprung out of their tombs and were seen walking around Jerusalem that day, little story. Okay there’s a new star when God becomes incarnate, people who pay attention to things like stars notice there’s a change. The Apostle Paul goes so far as to say in Romans 1 that God’s invisible attributes can be seen in creation and elsewhere he says creation is under a burden it’s under the burden of sin and conflict but it’s not sinful it’s still good but it’s under the burden of sin and conflict and what is it doing it’s striving yearning for the recreation to be complete. He says it waits like a woman in labor yearning during the suffering for the thing that the suffering will bring about. Why talk about this in a discussion of statecraft and it’s because we want to be reminded that we don’t live in a topsy-turvy world that is only or merely read in tooth and claw. But we actually live in a world that reflects the character of the God who made it. Is it under the burden of sin? Absolutely. Are these complicated stories that we’re talking about complicated because of what dangerous and destructive humans do? Absolutely. And yet we also need to be reminded of the fact that when we are doing this work well when we are pursuing God as Christians involved in this work we should expect to find a kind of harmony in the world around us, I don’t know. I’m not saying that everything I’m talking about utopia though that it does await us right the new heavens and new earth I’m not talking about that, but we shouldn’t be surprised that when we look at nature, when we look at the world around us that we find an affirmation that we find opera, we find a kind of harmony in the proper working of the state. In other words that also means that it’s not left up to us, we don’t have to bend creation to our will per se, okay, we recognize that this creation is a living reflection of the glory of God. So God is king and he’s made us in his image, God has created a world that reflects his glory. Thirdly I want to talk briefly about the final judgment again this is this is drawing attention to some things that we might or might not assume and particularly those who don’t have the same commitments that we do as Christians or as those who are informed by the scriptures, some people don’t have these commitments and so for some of them these are open questions and yet for us they’re not. As we consider how we ought to interact with the countries around us or even how we ought to bring order and handle the conflicts within our own country, the own domestic conflicts that we run into here, we can be reminded of the certainty that we have of a final judgment and what I mean by that is not well we know that the evil people are going to get theirs, right, that’s not what I’m talking about. What I mean by that is a more broad picture of God’s judge justice and his character of being just and that is while we see injustice around us both within our country’s borders and beyond we know that that is not happening kind of merely again in a world that has no definite end it’s not as if might makes right okay because we are reminded that there is a just God a good God who will bring justice to the world, and we’ll finally have the last word. It’s interesting in the story of Moses when he’s at Sinai and he ascends up to the mountain it’s this really fascinating passage where Moses is really getting introduced to Adonai, okay the God who has redeemed him, he’s learned his name before the exodus but now that the exodus is happening there’s this kind of acquaintance you know, this making of the acquaintance that happens in Sinai and they have these interesting back and forths where Moses sometimes proposes things and God says no that’s not a good idea, and then God will propose something and Moses we’d rather not do it that way and in this passage Moses says I want to see you, I want to know what you’re like and God says I can’t do that because that would kill you. But you can see, and it’s interesting what he says the after part of my goodness, okay, the after part of my goodness and what he does he puts Moses in a cleft, and if you were raised in a Christian church you know you’ve read rock of ages right, so he puts him in a cleft and what’s a cleft? It’s like a little crack in the rock and he passes in front of him and while he goes Adonai sings a song about his name, his name the kind of unpronounceable yodhi lave Yahweh or Jehovah he sings a song about his name, you remember how it goes he says Adonai, Adonai right merciful and gracious but abounding, abounding in mercy but we’ll always visit judgment we’ll always visit justice on those who oppress on those who do evil. It’s an interesting thing I always want to point out to Christians notice this that God introduces himself as 100 mercy and grace and 100 justice and as Christians we take heart and all humans should take heart knowing that God leads with his mercy. It’s actually kind of even sort of logically flipped right, we’d expect him to start with justice so we can understand why he’s merciful, but he starts with mercy, okay, he leads with mercy. This is the God of the Old Testament, okay, he leads with mercy, and yet he doesn’t let us forget that he’s a just God. I think for us we often think of justice as the bad part of God and mercy is the good part, and good thing he’s not just just because if he is just just then we all be in trouble but he’s also merciful. But I think actually if we do that we’re missing a major part of the divine
character because we’re missing the fact that without him being just just, then evil runs rampant in the world. If you remember the stories of God showing justice against the nations or against his own people he does it in order to protect, and sometimes it’s explicitly told that he does it in order to protect the people who are being oppressed. As a matter of fact when he goes down to Sodom and Gomorrah you remember what he says to Abraham? He says I’ve heard the outcry against these people I’ve heard the outcry of those who are being afflicted. See, in the bible rebellion against God quickly leads to oppression and conflict and exploitation, so we should want God to be just, it’s good for him to bring his justice and that also means that when we’re operating in a world of the state it’s not just about getting our agenda across, it’s not just about might making right and making sure we just win, but it’s making sure that we do this in a way that we will be able, in such a way that we will be able to stand before a God who is just and said and say this to the best of our ability, to according, to the wisdom that you gave us we tried to reflect your character in the work that we did in the world. You see the reality of the final judgment should quicken us in every endeavor of life not merely the work of the state, not merely in the work of national security, but it’s something that as Christians we ought to think about as we pursue that calling. And then lastly let me end with this I’d already mentioned Deuteronomy 6 this again is that great commandment hear o Israel the lord is our God the lord is one therefore as a result you ought to respond to him accordingly respond to him as if he is your god your covenant God that’s what the our means there. Israel doesn’t own God they don’t possess him like a bail worshiper possesses his bail idol this is a joke that Isaiah makes. By the way you know that the Baal worshiper thinks that Baal is his creator but he’s like you just made you just made it with your own hands you know right that you he didn’t create you but God is not that way okay God is our God but it’s not that we possess him it’s that we are bound up to him in covenant and so we should respond with love. That’s the proper response, but God is also one, he’s not like the other Gods who are divided up by their own geographical and geology you know you know jurisdictions so that if Baal pior doesn’t give you what you want you can go down to Baal Hebron and maybe he will, it doesn’t work that way, without an eye because he’s the same God no matter where you go, so you ought to love him in the same way including your heart. We know what that means and yourself that’s why I think soul is best translated actually as your body it’s a big, I won’t go all into it, this is good, but Robert altar’s translation of torah just came out he’s a University of California Berkeley scholar and he, I was happy to see he translated it as body, not a soul, King James says soul, it’s body okay, heart that’s your inner self that would include your soul, your nephesh that is your body, and then your strength and what’s the strength there? Well the strength is I think Moses tells us the strength is our estate it’s our capital it’s whatever we’re doing in the world and that would include for us our political capital that would include our military capital that would include our intellectual capital creative capital relational capital it’s all supposed to be dedicated to the lord. So you as someone who’s interested in the work of the state someone who comes to conferences like those put up by providence magazine those of you who think about national security let me encourage you think about how this gifting that the lord has given you these relationships that you’re even making at a conference like this think about how you are using them to his glory. And I think for the Christian and this is real for those of you who are in military service for those of you who are in the work of government and the work of state and state department I’ve had this conversation with many people they think about how do I do this in a way that is using what the lord has given me to bring glory to him and to honor those made in his image. You see this is a deep part of our calling that our faith does not merely tell us what we’re supposed to do on Sunday morning but it tells us how we ought to live in every aspect of our life, there’s nothing left out by Deuteronomy 6 love the lord your God with all of your heart and all of your soul and all of your strength. As a matter of fact I would argue that Moses is saying it’s said in such a way that it explicitly means the whole of the human existence. Well this is a talk about the reformed tradition, so let me leave you here with a quote again from Hermann bobbink, the great continental reformed theologian of the Netherlands again early 20th century this is from his book kingdom of God the highest good he says this and this is in a nutshell what I’ve been trying to argue for over the course of this talk, scripture is the book of the kingdom of God not a book for this, or that people for the individual alone, but for all nations, for all humanity it is not a book for one age but for all times it is a kingdom book just as the kingdom of God develops, not alongside and above history but in and through world history. So too scripture must not be abstracted nor viewed by itself nor isolated from everything else rather scripture must be brought into relationship with all of our living with the living of the entire human race and scripture must be employed to explain the whole of human living. Thank you.
We have time for a few questions, I’m mindful of the of the hour. I feel like when I stand up I should say and now for something completely different. Okay any questions? Anyone delving into biblical theology and the work of the state?
Sure, what’s the rule? Do you just answer from, ask from where you are? Go ahead that’d be great. That’s okay, I’ll repeat it.
John Scott Redd Jr.: I mean at every point that you’re reading scripture you have to be mindful, let me actually, I’ll add another part. So the question was do we look merely a current history or also at ancient history right, or the history in which it was written the text. Let me actually add there are kind of three spheres in which you’re always looking, by the way at any text, but definitely also with the scripture and so as if you’re reading it you can’t just read it and say well now I’m going to apply this right into the gulf, the first gulf war or something without kind of thinking through you know some of these adjustments right. This is a good question by the way, I teach at a seminary overseas that has a bunch of students from theMediterranean base including Egyptian students and you know I was working through Noah’s cursing of Kannan the son of Ham and all of a sudden all these hands fly up right I’m like wait what’s going this is usually a boring part of the class and suddenly everyone’s really engaged and it raised this whole question about what do you do if you live in someof these countries that are being mentioned in the curses or in the blessings. Isaiah has a whole list of curses about Egypt where he’s naming neighborhoods where my students lived okay, and they’re saying what do we do with this and you’re right you can’t just take that and say well if Thebes is cursed in Isaiah then it must be cursed today right or Alexandria or something likethat so yeah. So I would argue this when you’re looking at any text including the biblical text remember that when you’re reading the story for instance, like the story about Moses on the mountain with the cleft there’s a couple of things going on there. There’s the event that’s being described in the book okay, then there’s the writing about the event okay so in that case we might say this is you know an account in Exodus so this is being written okay depending on how you understand the authorship of Exodus but I would argue for an essential mosaic authorship, so this is being written for an Exodus community so it’s explaining to them, or maybe a wandering community, wandering wilderness or conquest community is explaining to them thenature of God as they interact with their realities which are the wandering in the desert and the conquest of the land. So you’ve got the content of the story and that can be Abraham the story about Abraham and Sarah, that can be the story about Moses, then you have the writing of the story, so you have to kind of interact how is this content being used, what’s the point of it in this story, okay and then you have what does that now mean for me having read this content in light of this historical setting, what does it mean for me. One of my professors says and this is a great image so I have to just steal it from him, but he says the bible is a window, and it’s a painting, and it’s a mirror. So it’s a window to these events in the story it’s a painting right where you can stop you can look at the texture, you can see how it was painted because that’s the authorship of it, and it’s time right, but it’s also a mirror that reflects on us so I’d say a full-orbed reading of scripture would be that you’re interacting with all three of those worlds, all three of those levels so that’s a good point to make. Yeah you have to make adjustments don’t just pull the scripture out of the ancient world and apply it without consideration to your time.
Questioner: When you look at the scripture from what I understand, the specific context has to do with a fairly isolationist group of people who are very homogenous. How do you apply from a reformed plus human perspectivesomething that really impacts the culture very differently in a very separate culture that might be that you know fundamentally valued separateness whereas the United States is cut down?
John Scott Redd Jr.: So, question is when you’re dealing with ancient Israel, particularly you’re thinking of right when you’re dealing with ancient Israel you have a very isolationist, separatist – you know the word holy doesn’t mean to be set apart as holy right, so you’re a a special kind of internally focused organization trying to protect its purity from the people around it. And how do we apply that to a world like today where that’s not that’s not necessarily our interest right, it’s just to protect ourselves and kind of be isolationist and turned inward. Well I would say first of all when you go back to Israel, you’re right you have to read it in context it’s a reason why you can’t take the civil law of the old testament and just apply it right into this world today. I mean there’s obviously, there’s all kinds of adjustments that have to be made, Christ himself makes a lot of these adjustments for us as does Paul, you know Paul takes capital the capital punishment crimesof the old testament and says he applies them into excommunication out of
the church. Okay so it’s interesting that’s something we have to take in consideration when we’re looking at how to interpret these things but I would actually add this, I think a close reading the old testament would actually reveal Israel to be a country where, yes if you were in the land at the time of the conquest you were under the ban that had been provided, you know and ordered in Genesis beginning, in Genesis 15 where God says that he will hold off before he gives his people into the land because the people in the land do not deserve it yet, okay that’s the argument, the sin of the Amorites has not reached its full. But at one point it will and in that case when the conquest happens it will be a, you know it’ll be a, just thing okay so leaving that aside as a very specific rule for a very specific time if you actually look at how Israel is called to interact with the nations that are not in the land. So it’s bordering nations and that includes Edom and us elsewhere it’s told, you know I’m forgetting where in Deuteronomy, is Deuteronomy 20 I’m blanking on where it is, I have to go back but where he talks about dealing with nations not in the land, I would actually argue it’s very similar to what positions we would hold today. You start with diplomacy you’re supposed to interact try to create diplomatic relations if they aggress against you and they can’t be placated by diplomacy then you introduce, then you’re able to consider you know the response by force. But actually I would argue that genesis, I mean that throughout the old testament Israel is called on to be not only in friendly diplomatic relations with the countries around it but actually to be expanding its influence around the world through diplomatic relations. So, it’s not obvious because I think everybody sees, oh look how look at the ban the Karam ban of the conquest and that’s so unique and special. But actually, I think the most of the rules that you see with Israel in the Old Testament are actually quite reasonable and they give us some values in how we think about, we ought to respond now. Okay, thank you all.