John Robbins Quick Quote

In his excellent and timely piece, The Bible, Blowback, and the Bomb, Steve Matthews provides a link to a 1991 Trinity Review by John Robbins, Truth and Foreign Policy. I strongly recommend both articles for careful study and reflection; especially if you’re a Republican voter in Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina. It’s time that the Bible, and not knee-jerk jingoism and blind faith in multi-point plans offered by well-quaffed self-styled visionaries,  inform our political choices.

There are good reasons why the new boss is same as the old boss and why we are routinely fooled again.  These two pieces explain why.

Here is a small sample from the Robbins piece that succinctly contrasts a very popular and even religious foreign policy with the biblical one:

Alfred Thayer Mahan, the apologist of naval power at the turn of the century, thought of America’s “unwilling acquisition of the Philippines” in these terms: “[T]he preparation made for us, rather than by us…is so obvious as to embolden even the least presumptuous to see in it the hand of Providence.” Circumstances not only justify the action, sometimes they lend it divine authority.

Had King David been guided by Mahan’s notion of the guiding hand of Providence, rather than by the Biblical idea of obedience to God’s laws, Old Testament history would have been quite different. When King Saul was trying to kill David, and David was fleeing from him and his troops, Saul

“came to the sheepfolds by the road, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to attend to his needs. (David and his men were staying in the recesses of the cave.) Then the men of David said to him, ‘This is the day of which the Lord said to you, “Behold, I will deliver your enemy into your hand, that you may do to him as it seems good to you.”’ And David arose and secretly cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. Now it happened afterward that David’s heart troubled him because he had cut Saul’s robe. And he said to his men, ‘The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord.’ So David restrained his servants with these words, and did not allow them to rise against Saul. And Saul got up from the cave and went on his way.”

Here was the “guiding hand of Providence” if ever it had displayed itself. It led Saul into the cave where David and his men were hiding. David could have killed Saul while he napped. David’s men, like Alfred Mahan, urged him to seize the moment; they even quoted a prophecy to lend the sanction of God to their opinion. But David, who was truly a man after God’s own heart, knew that they were wrong. His obligation was to obey God’s command not to harm the king. He could not tell what God’s purposes were by reading the circumstances. As it turned out, God’s purpose, or one of God’s purposes, was to test David to see whether he would obey God rather than leaning on his own understanding of circumstances. David passed the test; his men would have failed had David not restrained them.

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16 Comments on “John Robbins Quick Quote”


  1. I read Robbins’ article and agree with it. However, he never answers the question of how to apply Scripture to foreign policy. He simply makes the assertion that Scripture applies. His criticism of political visionaries is a point to be taken.

    Also, does the quote from the Westminster Confession apply only to matters of faith and salvation or to all of “life”? Scripture is not an exhaustive book. It can only give detailed, inductive answers to certain and particular issues. Otherwise, we can only rely on general principles inferred or inducted from the particulars in Scripture. The Decalogue, for example, is apodeitic and general principle while many of the civil or judicial laws of the OT are casuistic in nature. I’m thinking here of the reading I did in Walther Eichrodt’s OT Theology in seminary. I know Eichrodt was neo-orthodox. But that does not mean we should not read what he has to say….. Although I do prefer reading Clark:)

    Could someone point me to something written by Robbins or Clark pertaining to the application of Scripture to all areas of life?

    Charlie

  2. LJ Says:

    I volunteered to make phone calls from home for the Ron Paul for President campaign. I haven’t made a lot of them yet and I don’t have a lot of time to contribute but from the ones I’ve made it appears Michelle Bachmann is very popular in Iowa.

    BTW, every person I’ve called in Iowa has been very nice. Can’t wait to make calls in California. I can hear the phone hanging up in my ear right now!

  3. Hugh McCann Says:

    One quick J.R. quote deserves another*:

    The War for Independence

    Throughout American history there has been a theme of political messianism, but it was a minor theme until the Civil War and the Spanish-American War. The most messianic of all figures were, of course, the clergymen. In 1776 the Reverend Samuel Sherwood of Connecticut declared that “God Almighty, with all the powers of Heaven, are on our side. Great numbers of Angels, no doubt, are encamping round our coast, for our defence and protection. Michael stands ready, with all the artillery of Heaven, to encounter the dragon, and to vanquish the black host.”

    The fundamental confusion between God’s battle and the colonies’ battle, between a divine cause and a human cause, between theology and politics, is characteristic of political messianism. In 1742 Jonathan Edwards had published “Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival of Religion” in which he anticipated the coming of the millennium in America. But where Edwards saw the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the means of bringing in the millennium, just thirty years later the millennium was to be ushered in by force of arms. The Kingdom of God became confused with the State. During the Dark Ages, it had become confused with the Church. But the messianic strain of thought in early America was muted, compared to what would come later.

    * “The Messianic Character of American Foreign Policy,” 1990
    http://www.trinityfoundation.org/PDF/075a-MessianicCharacterAmericanPolicy.pdf

  4. Jim Butler Says:

    LJ,

    I am curious as to what you think concerning Congressman Paul’s view on abortion. In this clip from the debate on 9/22/2011, Congressman Paul does not reject the statement that he approves of abortion for rape. Additionally, as he speaks about the morning after pill, his statements are confusing. Some may argue that abortifacents should be controlled by the government: they should never be allowed to be manufactured.

    Accepting Dr. Robbins’ insistence upon the role of the magistrate to uphold all ten commandments and realizing that abortion is a clear violation of the sixth word, it seems that endorsing Congressman Paul is an unbiblical choice.

    Respectfully,

    Jim Butler

  5. Steve Matthews Says:

    Thanks for posting this, Sean. The example from David’s life explodes the neo-con doctrine of preventive war, which is all about justifying aggressvie war based on the assumed future actions of a suspected enemy. To put flesh on that, it is the assumption that the US must attack Iran now, because at some point Iran may acquire a nuclear bomb and possibly drop it on Jerusalem.

  6. Steve Matthews Says:

    @ LJ
    I just got off my first stint on the phones. It sounds like you had a better time than I did. Everybody hung up on me 😦

    @ Jim
    Paul’s position on abortion is that he is personally opposed to it and, further, that it is an issue that the Constitution has left to the states.

    As to his stance on abortifacients, his wasn’t the best answer but I don’t think that it makes supporting Ron Paul unbiblical. No magistrate is going to perfectly uphold the Ten Commandments – think of the list of Hebrew kings, some of whom like David, Hezikiah and Jehoshaphat are praised in Scripture for being godly men but who were at the same time sinners and obviously quite fallible – but a man can be faithful in his office, and Ron Paul has certaily been that.

  7. Jim Butler Says:

    Thank you Steve; I appreciate your response.

    jim

  8. Denson Dube Says:

    Hi Charlie,
    “…he never answers the question of how to apply Scripture to foreign policy. He simply makes the assertion that Scripture applies.”
    That is because, it seems to me, it was never the intention of the writer to do so. John only meant to show that common or popular epistemic grounds upon which foreign policy is built is sinking sand, and that we should turn to the bible for such ground.

    “Also, does the quote from the Westminster Confession apply only to matters of faith and salvation or to all of “life”? Scripture is not an exhaustive book. It can only give detailed, inductive answers to certain and particular issues. Otherwise, we can only rely on general principles inferred or inducted from the particulars in Scripture.”

    If the scriptures are inadequate to guide our puny miserable lives, then what are they good for? Can they be trusted to guide one to eternal life, if they are incompetent to guide one in this life?
    Clark and Robbins taught that the bible teaches what it states explicitly and whatever can be logically deduced from it and that the scriptures are sufficient for a godly life.

    “The Decalogue, for example, is apodeitic and general principle while many of the civil or judicial laws of the OT are casuistic in nature. I’m thinking here of the reading I did in Walther Eichrodt’s OT Theology in seminary. I know Eichrodt was neo-orthodox. But that does not mean we should not read what he has to say….. Although I do prefer reading Clark:)”

    Why do you need a neo-orthodox(aka unbeliever) teacher to understand something so elementary and obvious? Even at junior school, they understand that the constitution is not the place to look for the speed limit set for rural Mississippi.

    “Could someone point me to something written by Robbins or Clark pertaining to the application of Scripture to all areas of life?”
    Sure:
    “A Christian View of Men and Things” by Gordon Clark.
    “An Introduction to Christian Philosophy” by Gordon Clark.
    “Christ and Civilisation” by John Robbins
    and more!

  9. Sean Gerety Says:

    I would also recommend John’s lectures on economics (fwiw I urged him for a number of years before his passing to work those into a volume, something I think is sorely needed in the Christian’s arsenal). Also his Freedom and Capitalism is excellent.

    And let’s not forget Clark’s Essays on Ethics and Politics.

    But I agree the piece would have been better had John included a few more biblical examples and applications. That’s why Steve’s BBB is a nice addition although I’m sure a lot more could be inferred (even though 1 Thess. 4:11 is a great starting point).

  10. LJ Says:

    @ Jim Butler – I didn’t like Paul’s answer when I heard it and thought he was weaseling. Abortifacients, unlike, say, bullets, are not neutral “things” that may be used for either good or evil. Abortifacients, if I understand it correctly, are always used for evil purposes, therefore I am and have always been against both the use of or manufacture of them.

    I was disappointed since he has been consistently pro-life his entire career as far as I know.

    I agree with Steve Matthews that no elected official will likely be 100% right on all issues of the law of God. Even though I’m taking the stand that I’m not going to vote for the next establishment Repub as I have in the past, I realize that I will have to compromise to some extent on ANY CANDIDATE at some level no matter who he is. Now am I weaseling?

  11. LJ Says:

    @ Steve Matthews: “I just got off my first stint on the phones. It sounds like you had a better time than I did. Everybody hung up on me 😦 ”

    Steve, that’s obviously due to my exceedingly winsome and charismatic personality, eh?

    Give me time to make some more calls and I’m sure I’ll get my share of hang ups. But having been a stock broker in the mid 80’s making 100 cold calls a day, well, I’ve got pretty thick skin.

    Keep up the good work!!!! 🙂

  12. Neil Says:

    Here is how Scripture might be applied to foreign policy. Betrayal (a sin no Christian should have trouble grasping) is the pattern that often emerges in the past. Examples:

    Consider the little-known Phillipine-American War, a brutal guerilla campaign resulting from the US betrayal of Filipino revolutionaries (led by Emilio Aguinaldo) in the Spanish-American War. The US made promises to them, including independence, then sold them out to make a separate peace with the Spaniards, which was similar to what happened in Cuba, only we did not acquire Cuba as colony, though we did lend support to Batista, who was an excellent foil for Castro.

    The CIA engineered a coup d’état against Iran’s duly-elected president Mosaddegh in 1953, replacing him with the Shah. Why? Mossaddegh wanted to nationalize Western oil holdings there. And we wonder why Iran was so angry with us in 1979.

    The US betrayed S. Vietnam’s president Ngo Dinh Diem to assassination after unwisely supporting his regime, which was a classic piece of Catholic fascism. S. Vietnam was henceforth destabilized, opening the door to the Viet Cong & Ho Chi Minh. Better if we had simply stayed away from France’s colonial mess.

  13. Hugh McCann Says:

    Neil,

    Since we’re on the subject of CIA foreign engineering,* and since he’s been extradited back to sunny Panama, what know you of drug-runner-dictator-turned-Christian Manuel Noriega?

    Thanks,
    Hugh

    * As well as subversive popish subplots @ ‘The Bible, Blowback, and the Bomb.’

  14. Neil Says:

    I haven’t studied Noriega of late, so I’d have to resort to some Internet research, no less than yourself. I have enough trouble figuring out whether people I know personally are really Christians, and not just practical atheists pretending to be so.

    Panama is another artifact of American imperial gaming; it was hived off from Colombia by a fomented revolution w/o the latter’s legislative consent (the Herrán-Hay Treaty wasn’t ratified by Columbia’s Senate). Surely an amicable deal could’ve been negotiated with Columbia.

  15. Hugh McCann Says:

    Neil,

    Thanks. These guys say he prayed the prayer:

    http://www.arm.org/noriega.htm

  16. justbybelief Says:

    Jim,

    “Accepting Dr. Robbins’ insistence upon the role of the magistrate to uphold all ten commandments and realizing that abortion is a clear violation of the sixth word, it seems that endorsing Congressman Paul is an unbiblical choice.”

    The Constitution does not authorize the federal government to dictate policy on abortion. The role of the federal government is clearly specified in the Constitution. For Ron Paul as president to usurp an authority not authorized in the Constitution would be immoral.

    The Constitution clearly states that any authority not granted to the federal government by the Constitution is left to the states and to the people.

    The States and the people are charged in this matter with preserving life and making abortion illegal.

    Though Paul may confusing, and in error, in his statements in the video, as president he has no authorization to act either way concerning abortion, unless of course he as president declares the supreme court ruling illegal.

    The role of the federal government is limited by the Constitution. When the federal government oversteps its bounds we get things like Roe v. Wade and the many other tyrannical policies being perpetrated today.

    If our local and state representatives were obeying their oaths they’d have nullified Roe v. Wade a long time ago.

    Instead of blaming Ron Paul for doing something, or not doing something, for which he has no authority under the Constitution we should place blame where it belongs: on congress and past presidents for not striking down Roe v. Wade and/or state and local governments for not holding the federal government, namely the supreme court, within its bounds.

    Eric


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