Should Christians Vote for the Vain and Boastful?
Evangelical thinker, author, and Christian pastor John Piper stirred the Christian community and a larger public intrigued with how Christians may vote in the this election with his recent essay, “Policies, Persons, and Paths to Ruin: Pondering the Implications of the 2020 Election.”
Piper concludes: “I will not develop some calculus to determine which path of destruction I will support.” After rejecting the sin of boastfulness with a terminology diagnosed in the Greek with the term “eristikos,” he is willing to forswear voting on or in the Presidential election of 2020. Piper’s critique of leadership character is one of several made by other major evangelical thinkers like Max Lucado and Beth Moore. Piper’s thesis cannot be reconciled to the rhetoric and arguments of basic Biblical hermeneutics.
Piper complains early in the essay: “I find it bewildering that Christians can be so sure that greater damage will be done by bad judges, bad laws, and bad policies than is being done by the culture-infecting spread of the gangrene of sinful self-exaltation, and boasting, and strife-stirring (eristikos). How do they know this? Seriously! Where do they get the sure knowledge...” Piper is condescendingly stunned that Christians might vote in the current election given the tragic political character flaw of boasting that for him obviously precludes the task of voting for President. Piper does not provide biblical examples to support his thesis and offers only the well-worn hermeneutic that all sin is of equal offense in the eyes of God so boasting will be as “deadly” as abortion, according to Piper. In reality, the Bible is replete with human beings plagued with boasting character flaws and yet assigned to not only leadership but political sovereignty.
Moses is an arrogant murderer who is mocked in chapter two of the book of Exodus by his fellow Israelites: “Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” The deeply flawed Moses flees to Midian. Nonetheless, while he is in hiding, God chooses Moses to be the sovereign political leader of the Israelites. Moses argued with God that he was not of sufficient character to carry out such a task and God is angered by this rebuttal. Moses’ arrogance and strife-stirring remained with him as sovereign leader of Israel to the point of being banned from the promised land of Israel by God, even after delivering the Israelites out of Egypt.
Another key author of much of the Bible is King David who arrogantly murders the husband of Bathsheba in order to take her as his wife. A prophet named Nathan confronts the arrogant king with prophetic condemnation. None of this, including the confessions of David himself in the book of Psalms, preclude his political sovereignty over Israel. The problem is not limited to the Old Testament and its theocratic politics.
What would John Piper have done if he were part of the early Christian Jerusalem church and a man named Saul of Tarsus came to him and his fellow leaders James, Peter, and John? Acts 9:26-27 explains the situation: “When he came to Jerusalem, he [Saul] was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles...” Saul was a boastful murderer and even a genocidaire bent on eradicating Christianity from Judea. The killers of Stephen had tossed their garments at Saul’s feet as they stoned Stephen to death. But Barnabas had the courage to believe that Saul could be something more. Saul imagined the gospel could be shared with Gentiles. This idea contradicted basic understanding of the disciples at that point of history. Was Saul boastful, strife-stirring, and a threat to the early Church?
Ultimately it is Paul who writes and explains what Piper cannot in the first chapter of First Corinthians: “but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.” Piper can boast of special knowledge of Greek words like eristikos but he cannot boast of a superior knowledge with regard to whether Christians should vote for President on November 3.
It is not simply that Christians are allowed to vote for the kind of boastful candidates Piper finds incomprehensible as a choice. God deliberately confounds our moral calculus -- especially those calculations designed to make us look more righteous than others. Jesus nominates a Roman centurion who likely brutalized Jews in that region as having “the greatest faith.” Jesus chose a tax collector named Matthew who was likely deemed a political traitor by his community for his heinous cooperation with and orchestration of brutal Roman imperial confiscation of property. None of this makes sense to us and the local knowledge brokers called Jesus out for his outrageous affiliations with the politically reprobate. The cancel culture of first century Judea was strong enough for even Nicodemus to approach Jesus at night with his careful and furtive questions about God’s kingdom. Nicodemus’ peers knew better— perhaps like John Piper. Jesus himself was crucified for boasting that he could destroy the temple in three days and rebuild it. His accusers tore their clothes they were so grieved by his arrogance and strife stirring. Apparently, in first century A.D. false witness was also prone to happen from time to time. But the wisdom of God is foolishness to men. That foolishness may include voting on November 3 for President of the United States.
Dr. Ben Voth is an associate professor or rhetoric and Director of Speech and Debate at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. His latest book -- Debate as Global Pedagogy: Rwanda Rising— comes out this winter.
Image: Phillip Medhurst