by Laurence M. Vance: Signs
of the Times
Carl Trueman’s Republocrat:
Confessions of a Liberal Conservative (P & R Publishing,
2010), xxvii + 110 pgs, paperback, $9.99.
is confused, but not as confused as his book’s title and subtitle
indicate. He is trying to describe with one term both his political
and religious viewpoint.
It is rare
that an author clearly states his thesis upfront instead of making
you wade through the whole book wondering just what it is the author
is trying to prove. Although it is not clear from the book’s title
or subtitle, Trueman’s thesis, which he states in different forms
in his acknowledgments and his introduction, makes it clear that
he is a religious conservative and a political liberal:
conservatism does not demand unconditional political conservatism.
Christianity does not require conservative politics or conservative
is living proof that his thesis is true. As am I. But that is where
our similarities end.
that his book will merely confirm that he is a "bleeding-heart
liberal," that it is just "a tract for the Left,"
and that it is "little more than the special pleading of a
confused political liberal." After reading the book I must
say that his fears are justified. But what did he expect?
gun control and nationalized health care (although he is quick to
point out that he is "not a socialist"). He holds dear
as important political issues poverty, sanitation, housing, unemployment,
and hunger. He also has "concern for the environment."
He believes the government "has a role to play in health care
and helping the poor." He disdains capitalism and feels that
"pure private enterprise is not adequate for meeting all of
Yet, he finds
himself "politically homeless, restless, and disenchanted."
This is because, although "a man of the left," Trueman,
as a theological conservative, is pro-life and anti-gay marriage.
No wonder he feels that any of the secular Left reading the book
will find him "woefully inconsistent."
So why am I,
a theological conservative and a hardcore libertarian, even bothering
to review a book that I find so muddled and moronic that I have
to say is not worth reading?
makes some good points about both the Right and the Left that I
feel are worth mentioning. And two, Trueman makes some bad points
about Christianity and capitalism and Christianity and politics
that I also feel are worth mentioning.
Let me first
give some brief information about the author and his book.
originally from Great Britain. He did not move to the United States
until 2001. He was a member of the British Conservative Party in
the mid-1980s, but became disillusioned and made a "leftward
turn." He is now the vice president of academics and professor
of historical theology and church history at Westminster Theological
Seminary in Philadelphia. This is a conservative seminary that was
founded by J. Gresham Machen. Trueman holds a Ph.D. in church history
from Aberdeen University.
Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative, is a
small book of 110 pages that takes longer to digest than to read.
It contains six chapters. The first chapter, with the catchy title
of "Left Behind," is a critique of the Left. Chapter 2
is about the secularization of American Christianity. Chapter 3
is a critique of Fox News. Chapter 4 is a critique of Max Weber
and capitalism. Chapter 5 is about politics. Chapter 6 is a "Concluding
Unpolitical Postscript." The book also contains an introduction
by the author and a foreword by a politically conservative colleague
who recounts how, when visiting the grave of Karl Marx with the
author, he was careful to stand to the right of the bust of Marx
while Trueman stood to the left.
In his critique
of the Right, Trueman correctly criticizes the idea that America
should be identified with God’s special people. He cautions against
the temptation for the "dominant nation at any point in world
history to identify its mission with the mission of God." This
"must be resisted at all costs." In this context, he specifically
American Patriot’s Bible, a nationalistic and militaristic
Bible published recently that I have negatively reviewed here.
Trueman terms one of the claims in this Bible’s promotional video
"puerile, blasphemous nonsense." Even worse though is
the painting One Nation Under God, which portrays Jesus holding
the Constitution while surrounded by deists Thomas Jefferson and
Thomas Paine. "To include them pictorially," says Trueman,
"in some nostalgic plea for a Christian nation is historically
ignorant, blasphemous, and, quite frankly, risible."
nothing good to say about Fox News, the station where "any
dissent from the most robust conservative philosophy was seen as
a sign of basic moral failure." He especially focuses on the
shortcomings of Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and Fox’s owner, Rupert
Murdoch. I like Trueman’s suggestion that "when it comes to
listening to the news; Christians should be eclectic in their approach
and not depend merely on those pundits who simply confirm their
view of the world."
a good eye for the hypocrisy of the Right, like this insight: "While
the Christian Right is intolerant of any personal peccadillo on
the part of liberals, it is often very forgiving of the private
failings of its heroes." The description of John McCain and
Sarah Palin as mavericks he finds "clearly absurd." And
of good ol’ boy George W. Bush, there is "no one more elite."
Trueman points out the inconsistency of the Right holding "a
deep suspicion of the federal government in a domestic context,"
but decrying as "unpatriotic and un-American" any criticism
of the government when it invades some foreign country. On the issue
of abortion, Trueman astutely perceives that "it seems to be
something the Right often uses as little more than a means to drum
up cheap votes for its candidates." He questions the real commitment
of Bush, McCain, and the Republican Party to the pro-life cause.
As a political
liberal himself, Trueman’s critique of the Left is naturally limited.
As mentioned previously, our author deviates from the Left on the
issues of abortion and gay marriage. He believes that the Left has
been hijacked by identity politics. When the Left made gay rights
and abortion touchstone issues, "those of us with strong religious
convictions on these matters found ourselves essentially alienated
from the parties to which our allegiance would naturally be given."
In advocating gay rights, "the Left frequently finds itself
opposed to the values of the very people it was originally designed
to help." On abortion, Trueman wonders "how many on the
Left have ever taken the time to address the issue of how the right
to abortion became so inextricably linked to the notion of women’s
rights." He thinks that abortion "would seem to be a classic
cause for the Left" since the Left "prides itself on speaking
up for the oppressed, especially for those who cannot speak up for
themselves." He considers it "quite stunning" that
a rhetorical connection has been forged "between the oppression
of women and the denial of on-demand abortion."
There are some
other insights in the book as well. Trueman has some good remarks
on the Manichaean nature of American politics. He is especially
perplexed that Christians "who have a great capacity for subtle
thinking in matters of theology seem to prefer to think in terms
of very straightforward, black-and-white, if not Manichaean, categories
when it comes to politics."
issues, not just with Max Weber’s understanding of the "affinity
between Protestantism and the capitalist ethic," but with capitalism
itself. Christians should be wary of capitalism because:
- it promotes
a view of life rooted in material accumulation;
- it can tend
to drive all social relations and values to being determined by
- and when
given spiritual significance, it can become something that looks
a little too much like the prosperity gospel.
attempt to say that a capitalistic society is conducive to euthanasia
and abortion is ludicrous. Oh, capitalism doesn’t necessarily lead
to euthanasia, "but it creates one of the kinds of societies
where such discussion might well take place." Well, some ancient
pagan cultures didn’t just discuss human sacrifice; they practiced
it. They certainly had no idea what capitalism was. I think rather
that the opposite of what Trueman says is true. He also maintains
that "access to abortion" is "not unconnected"
to capitalism. I suppose this is why there were so many abortions
in the Soviet Union – under communism.
to our author, who, you will remember, is "not a socialist,"
there is "no alternative out there." Capitalism "has
its great benefits" and "brings much good in its wake,
not least the creation of wealth and the facilitation of social
mobility." Clearly, Trueman is confused about capitalism.
from a secular perspective, see my brief
review of Robert P. Murphy’s The
Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism and Thomas J.
Capitalism Saved America. On capitalism from a Christian
perspective, see my The
Myth of the Just Price.
But in addition
to Trueman’s bad points about Christianity and capitalism, there
are his remarks about Christianity and politics.
it is part of the Christian’s "civic duty" to vote even
as they "feel pain when they mark the relevant box, knowing
the trade-offs they are having to make as they do so, and how their
action belies the complexity of reality."
But I don’t
know why Trueman thinks Christians should feel pain or be making
trade-offs when they vote since he believes that, apart from abortion,
there are no issues upon which Christians can have opinions shaped
that on certain issues there is no obviously "Christian"
position. I am inclined to include among such issues the wars
in Iraq and Afghanistan, the appropriateness of trade unions,
rates of direct and indirect taxation, etc. To make any of these
things acid tests of Christian orthodoxy is to go well beyond
anything the Bible teachers or that the church has felt it necessary
to define over the two thousand years of its existence.
It is not
obvious to me from reading Scripture that God really cares one
way or the other about how health care is delivered. . . . I would
suggest it means that believers should consider heath care a good
thing and want to see as many people helped by it as possible.
How that is done, to what extent the state is involved, etc.,
are legitimate subjects for debate and not something that should
divide Christians as Christians.
there are a whole host of issues on which the Christian pundits
have strong opinions, from gun control to defense spending to
financial regulation to education. The problem is, of course,
that whether there is a distinctly biblical position on these
matters that can thus be pressed on the church is debatable.
we should be able to disagree vigorously on, say gun control.
If there are
no "Christian" positions on these issues – all of which
involve theft and/or violence by the state – then there are no "Christian"
positions on any issues and the Bible is completely irrelevant to
For a book
that was written because of the author’s "belief that the evangelical
church in America is in danger of alienating a significant section
of its people, particularly younger people, through too tight a
connection between conservative party politics and Christian fidelity,"
it contains surprisingly few references to Scripture. I only count
five, and most of them are on one page (p. 71). Trueman doesn’t
actually quote any Scripture, and neither does he give any real
references (book, chapter, & verse). He merely refers to 2 Corinthians
1, the Book of Acts, 2 Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 1 & 2, and
I think I see
Trueman’s political problem. He makes this statement on page 81:
"There does not appear to be a grand, unifying theory in politics
that allows all these areas to be tied together into one coherent
and necessary whole." The grand, unifying theory that Trueman
overlooks is, of course, libertarianism. Our author does mention
libertarianism twice, but each time with a negative connotation.
Once he remarks that having a commitment to untrammeled markets
leads toward "a form of libertarianism – economic at the outset
but profoundly moral in the long run." Then, in his conclusion,
Trueman talks about the Right shifting "in a more socially
and morally libertarian direction." So not only is Trueman
confused about capitalism, he is confused about libertarianism as
well. I would refer him to my recent ASC lecture, "Is
Libertarianism Compatible with Religion?"
may be a liberal conservative, but he is a liberal conservative
M. Vance [send him mail]
writes from central Florida. He is the author of Christianity
and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State, The
Revolution that Wasn't, and Rethinking
the Good War. His latest book is The
Quatercentenary of the King James Bible. Visit his
© 2011 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
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