Libertarianism and An Evangelical Social Gospel?

There is a nice book review of An Evangelical Social Gospel? up at

I think it’s a really fair review of what I tried to do in the book. It’s interesting to hear someone kind of push on my view of personhood. The atomism critique was new to me & I’ll have to investigate it further. It was good to read someone who has a different view of what it means to be an individual interact with what I’ve written. I’m grateful to be pressed on my views by someone who is fair-minded.

Doug Stuart, who wrote the review, also played fair with what I wrote and never distorted my position, even when he was being critical of it. As a writer, I don’t take that for granted. The net effect is that I feel open to listening to what Stuart is saying about what I wrote. So, I want to engage it a bit:

On the atomism or collectivism present in my thinking. I do think I’m open to critique on this. The moral worth of the person is almost completely neglected in what I wrote. It’s something which needs developing in my thinking and writing. I root most of what I say about it in the idea of uniqueness of each person. I need to think about this more and am grateful for that critique.

I think my response would be to push back on the voluntarism element of the individual as Opitz sees it. I don’t think our inclination is a factor in terms of what it means to be an individual / person. Our inclination toward being a hermit or social creature is secondary to the fact that we are born vulnerable and dependent creatures. Not all creatures are born this way. Our essential connected-ness is in our nature. I agree with Stuart/Opitz that this should not diminish the moral capacity of the person. But our involvement in humanity is not voluntaristic. We cannot choose to not be a human person, nor can we choose to live completely apart from other people if we wish to image God.

I think my overall reaction to the review is that more and more these days, I’m beginning to think that I can find a lot of common ground with libertarians, democrats, republicans, and just about anybody who wants to pursue justice and the common good. I also find it more and more difficult to find common ground with those who want to absolutize liberty without reference to the common good. (I wrote a whole article about this strain in the Tea Party at the Huffington Post).

However, Stuart helps me to articulate that I do not believe liberty is antithetical to the common good. Libertarianism and social justice are not fundamentally opposed to one another.

My question would be, does our society possess the kind of virtues necessary to make self governing under a more libertarian view work? Is our society too selfish for that? What makes the idea of intriguing to me is this. If there is a group on earth who cold govern as libertarians, it would be Christians. I’m not espousing that view, I’m just saying that the church universal – the people of God – are supposed to embody the virtues of the kingdom of God. Liberty is one of those, freedom, justice, equality. I really expect the church to live up to those virtues, to embody them in her common life.

However, those aren’t the only virtues necessary. The gospel and the kingdom of God are predicated on virtues which might run counter to at least some of the libertarian stream. Mutuality, self-sacrifice, self-emptying (kenosis), vulnerability, enemy love, refusal of violence, peace, economic justice, social justice, these are integral to the teachings of Jesus.

It would be fun to hear some of my friends with libertarian leanings talk about how those might fit with the libertarian vision for self-governance.

Thanks for the review, Doug! I’d love to hear you muse on those virtues and how they fit w/the libertarian views.

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  • Ryan

    I think Libertarianism works well in a voluntary society (like the Church) in which membership is conditional on maintenance of some sort of covenant. I'm not sure it works as well in a society where there is no choice of participation (a nation, for example).

    Libertarianism learns towards the abolition of the radical – those who challenge the system or refuse to play by the rules must be excluded – which is a bit scary to people like me who often challenge the system just for the sake of the challenge. I don't see a place for dissent in a Libertarian government.

    I do like your point about Libertarian Christians – I think it works very well in voluntary organization, in which removal is part of the game.

  • Doug Stuart

    Tim, thanks for responding. Could you kindly correct my last name to Stuart.

    Will engage your thoughts in the coming weeks.

  • xfree9

    Tim, I was finally able to post a response. Sorry it took so long! When I heard about your response I was on my way to the hospital taking my wife in for delivery! It's been a whirlwind of a month, to say the least.

    Here you go: