David VanDrunen, in his new book Politics after Christendom: Political Theology in a Fractured World (Zondervan, 2020), argues that God has ordained civil government—as the ruling authority of political communities—to be legitimate but provisional and to be common but accountable.
1. Political Institutions Are Legitimate.
God himself has ordained the existence and authority of our civil laws, governments, and officials.
Civil government has a right and even an obligation to carry out its proper work.
Civil government’s proper work is to promote justice.
Thus when civil governments and political officials promote justice within a particular society, they are not engaging in an act of usurpation but exercising legitimate authority.
Although they may come to power by different routes, furthermore, God is the ultimate source of their legitimacy.
2. But Political Institutions Are Also Provisional.
God has ordained them not as enduring bodies that will govern us in the new creation but as temporary bodies meant to promote a measure of peace and justice in this present, fallen world.
“Provisional” refers to something set in place for a limited time and purpose until something greater arrives.
It is a valuable institution but not of highest value. It is penultimate rather than ultimate.
Only the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, inchoately manifest now in the church and climatically revealed in the New Jerusalem, is of ultimate value and importance.
3. Political Institutions Are Common.
God did not establish these institutions simply for the benefit of Christians, or simply for the benefit of people from a certain location or ethnicity, but for the benefit of all humans alike.
God has ordained civil government to wield authority in political communities for the benefit of the human race in common. Government is not for some sorts of people rather than other sorts. One type of government is not to serve those of one ethnic or religious identity and an essentially different type of government to serve those of a different identity.
4. But Political Institutions Are Also Accountable.
These institutions are under God’s law and God’s authority. He established them to promote peace and justice, and thus political institutions must ultimately answer to God himself.
Civil governments should not be, and in fact, cannot be, neutral.
The way to achieve and maintain commonality is not by seeking a legal framework that makes no moral judgments and is hence independent of any philosophical or theological perspective.
Instead, civil governments are accountable to God and his standards of justice.
Therefore, a Christian political theology ought to teach and defend simultaneously that God designed civil governments to be common but accountable.