Libertarian Christianity

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Libertarian Christianity is a variant of Reformed Protestant political theology. This right-libertarian approach emerges from a synthesis of Neo-Calvinist systematic and biblical theology;[1] as libertarians, they believe that all secular governments exist to protect the natural rights of individuals, and only to protect natural rights; and they believe that natural rights are necessarily defined in terms of private property, at least in the legal and political arena. While acknowledging a nominal distinction between their legal-political thought and the rest of their theology, they are suspicious of any attempt to exclude other areas of Reformed dogmatics from political discourse and wish to underscore the need for Biblically derived, Protestant theories of law and political organization.

Libertarian Christians seek to distinguish themselves from both secular libertarians and non-Reformed Christian libertarians, they claim to be distinct from secular libertarians by deriving a formally voluntaryist legal and political philosophy strictly from the text of the Bible, rather than from secular sources or non-Calvinistic philosophy, and from Christian libertarians by deriving a Bible-based legal regime according to biblical hermeneutics at odds with those used by other libertarians professing Christian faith.[2]

Despite their claim to be methodologically distinct from secular libertarians and Christian libertarians, libertarian Christians readily acknowledge large areas of basic agreement with other types of libertarians in regard to legal and political concerns, and they readily work in concert with people from these other schools. More specifically, they make common cause with right-libertarians and market anarchists who generally espouse private property and natural rights; these include Rothbardian anarcho-capitalists, Nozickian minarchists, Hoppean paleolibertarians, and more mainstream Christian libertarians.


Distinction from metaphysical libertarianism[edit]

Reformed Libertarian Christians affirm absolute predestination,[3] they also believe in "free will" only to the extent that free will is a necessary prerequisite to moral accountability. Following the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter III,[4] they believe that "God from all eternity did ... freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established."[5] By believing in predestination, libertarian Christians believe in determinism to the extent that determinism is congruent with their view of predestination. Since metaphysical libertarianism patently rejects the precept that God has "from all eternity ... ordain[ed] whatsoever comes to pass," Reformed libertarian Christians patently reject metaphysical libertarianism as humanistic. On the other hand, Reformed libertarian Christians usually so reject so-called hard determinism due to the fact that its rejection of free will eliminates the possibility of moral accountability and just punishment.

Distinction from Christian libertarianism[edit]

Libertarian Christianity distinguishes itself from Christian libertarianism by having beliefs about law and government that derive from a distinct framework for interpreting the Bible, i.e., from a different set of biblical hermeneutics.[6] The difference between Christian libertarianism and libertarian Christianity starts in their respective ideological foundations. Libertarian Christianity has its foundation in biblical theology, and sees its libertarian political / legal philosophy as an outgrowth of that theology. On the other hand, Christian libertarianism, at its most systematic, is seen by libertarian Christians as being more ad hoc and less systematic. Libertarian Christians believe that Christian libertarianism, at its most systematic, is a blend of secular libertarianism and Christian dominionism / reconstructionism / theonomy. In contrast to Christian libertarianism, libertarian Christianity claims to be a systematic derivation of libertarian principles from the Bible, and libertarian Christians do not recognize any ideological debt to secular libertarianism. Instead, they believe that their libertarianism is a seamless outgrowth of their biblical theology.

The only theological system commonly cited by Christian libertarians is theonomic reconstructionism. Libertarian Christianity is compatible with a few of the basic tenets of theonomic reconstructionism. For example, libertarian Christians and theonomic reconstructionists agree about Abraham Kuyper's basic approach to life; as Ligon Duncan puts it, "Kuyper argued for an over-arching philosophy of life resting upon God alone as the epistemological foundation. 'There is not an inch in the whole of temporal life which Christ, as Lord of all men, does not say, "Mine,"' said Kuyper."[7] But libertarian Christianity has a major split with theonomic reconstructionism with regard to the way that Bible scholars in these two schools go about discerning the biblical prescription of human law, that is, the biblical prescription of positive law. Reconstructionists, and Christian libertarians who claim to be reconstructionists, assume (along with many Covenant Theologians) that such positive law can be discovered by deducing it directly from Bible-based moral law.[8] Christian libertarians who are not reconstructionists – because they do not have explicit interpretational guidelines aimed at discovering the biblical prescription of human law – are more likely to use a more ad hoc approach to Scripture that is less rational and less systematic; some Christian libertarians might not use the Bible as authority at all, as a source of human law.

Libertarian Christians agree with reconstructionists with regard to the manner in which Bible-based moral law is discovered, specifically, with the analogy-of-faith interpretive principle, but libertarian Christians disagree with theonomic reconstructionism / Christian libertarianism in regards to the proper hermeneutics to use to discover the biblical prescription of human law. Christian libertarians deduce the biblical prescription of human law directly from their beliefs about Bible-based moral law. In contrast, libertarian Christians believe that the biblical prescription of human law cannot be deduced directly from biblical moral law,[9] they believe that instead, the task of discovering the biblical prescription of human law demands a strictly chronological hermeneutic that has very little dependence upon prior discoveries about the Bible's moral law.

The most obvious point where results of these two hermeneutical agendas conflict is in regard to so-called victimless crimes. For example, comparison of the relative attitudes towards victimless crimes held by prototypical secular libertarian, Murray Rothbard, and the prototypicial Christian libertarian, Andrew Sandlin, shows that secular libertarianism and Christian libertarianism are not particularly compatible. From the libertarian Christian's perspective, the comparison shows that Christian libertarianism's attempted amalgamation of secular libertarianism lacks rational integrity. Libertarian Christians believe this lack of rational integrity in the Christian libertarian legal philosophy is a symptom of Christian libertarianism's erroneous hermeneutics. Rothbard:

[T]the most important argument for Prohibition was the undoubted fact that people commit significantly more crimes, more acts of negligence on the highways, when under the influence of alcohol than when cold sober. So why not prohibit alcohol ... I submit that there is only one why not, and this should be no news to libertarians who presumably believe in inalienable individual rights: namely, that no one has the right to coerce anyone not himself directly engaged in an overt act of aggression against rights. Any loosening of this criterion, to include coercion against remote "risks," is to sanction impermissible aggression against the rights of others.[10]

Libertarian Christians believe that this prototypical secular libertarian argument applies with equal logic to all so-called victimless crimes. Secular libertarianism, according to Rothbard, gives no place to the state for punishment of victimless crimes; the same cannot be said for Christian libertarianism according to Sandlin:

[T]he state must punish murder (Ex. 21:12), theft (Ex. 22:1-4), idolatry (Ex. 22:20), and other sins that the Scriptures explicitly requires it to punish. Since we may deduce from Scripture that abortion is murder (see Ex. 21:22, 23), that copyright infringement is theft, and that the public worship of the Earth by New Age advocates is idolatry, the state may suppress these crimes.[11]

In a secular state, according to secular libertarianism, idolatry is a victimless crime (or rather, shouldn't be a crime at all), and to punish it would itself be a crime. Biblical standards of morality call for the proscription of libertine behavior, such as drug addition, alcoholism, prostitution, gambling, and idol worship. Theonomic Reconstructionists and Christian libertarians generally believe that wherever such behavior is made morally repugnant by biblical standards of morality, the secular government is rightly authorized to punish practitioners. Libertarian Christians believe that in regard to victimless crimes, the secular libertarian position is more rational and more consistent with the Bible than the Christian libertarian position. In contrast to Christian libertarians, libertarian Christians believe that behaviors that violate biblical standards of morality, but are nevertheless victimless crimes, are rightly punished only within the ambit of the visible Church, and should be dealt with otherwise through free market processes. Libertarian Christians believe that secular governments are never authorized by Scripture to punish such immorality unless there is undeniable proof that a contract has been broken or real damage to another person's property (including this other person's ownership of his/her physical body) can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.[12]

Libertarian Christians also have a major difference with theonomic Christian libertarians with regard to apologetics. While theonomic Christian libertarians adhere to presuppositional apologetics, libertarian Christians do not. Use of presuppositional apologetics makes the development of Bible-based natural law rationally impossible.[7] In libertarian Christianity, the existence of Bible-based natural law is a prerequisite to the discovery of Bible-based natural rights, because such natural rights are a subset of such natural law. Along with a Bible-based concept of the social contract, Bible-based natural law and Bible-based natural rights are the core of the libertarian Christian's Bible-based political and legal philosophy, but theonomic Christian libertarians believe in neither natural law nor social contract theory.[13]

Libertarian Christians believe that it is important to understand natural rights within the overall context established by the interpretive framework from which they derive, for two overriding reasons: (a) They believe that maintaining the rational linkage of their political and legal theology to the Bible is important for the sake of distinguishing their libertarianism from libertinism. (b) They believe that maintaining the rational linkage of their political and legal theology to the Bible is important for the sake of distinguishing libertarian Christianity from any breed of libertarianism that presumes to authorize secular governments to punish victimless crimes.

Distinction from Thomism[edit]

Libertarian Christians believe that it's wrong to believe that just because they believe some of the doctrines taught by Thomas Aquinas, that they must be Thomists, and therefore Roman Catholics, they claim on the contrary to believe in Calvinistic soteriology and to be adherents to their own unique understanding of covenant theology.[14]

Distinction from secular libertarianism[edit]

The most prominent difference between Murray Rothbard's brand of Austro-libertarianism—as espoused in his book, The Ethics of Liberty,[15]—and libertarian Christianity revolves around his rejection of the social contract theory of government. Libertarian Christians have Bible-based concepts of natural law and the social contract. In contrast, Rothbard believes in natural law, but he does not believe in any viable social contract theory.[16] In John Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government,[17] Locke speaks of people surrendering natural rights in the process of entering a social contract, or more specifically, trading rights for the benefits of participation in the social contract, he indicates that this is a voluntary and consensual process. But Locke fails to show how, once the social contract is established, the offspring of the original contract-makers volunteer into the contract, and thereby perpetuate the consensual nature of the original contract; this is the first of two major problems that Rothbard sees in the social contract. Rothbard recognizes this flaw not only in Locke's philosophy, but also in the organic documents of the United States; the second problem arises by way of Rothbard's commitment to a strict "title-transfer" theory of contracts.[18] Because of these two problems, Rothbard rejects the social contract theory of government. --- Rather than rejecting the social contract because of these two problems, libertarian Christians use biblical exegesis to solve them. To solve the first problem, libertarian Christianity shows how offspring of the original contract-makers either enter the contract voluntarily and consensually, or do not enter it at all (thereby removing themselves from the social contract's jurisdiction).[19] To solve the second problem, libertarian Christians hold to a "property-interest" theory of contracts that allows for the alienation of interests in labor and actions,[20] even though they agree with Rothbard regarding the inalienability of the human will; the implications of these distinctions are huge, in the view of libertarian Christians, because, in their view, Rothbard's anarcho-capitalism is inherently dysfunctional without a social contract that is understood to have a perpetual existence.

Criticism of libertarian Christianity[edit]

Criticism of libertarian Christianity arises out of both criticism of libertarianism in general and out of opposing Christian theologies; such theologies manifest in supporters of other Christian political movements, such as the Christian Left, Christian Democracy, Christian socialism, Christian anarchism and Christian communism.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hermeneutical principles appear at Waehi 2007. Theology pertinent to libertarian Christianity appears in Waehi 2006, "Theological Glossary" and "Maxims of the Global Covenant".
  2. ^ For instance, compare Waehi 2007 and Gordon 1994
  3. ^ See Waehi 2006, Theological Glossary/#predestination.
  4. ^ See Divines 1649, "Of God's Eternal Decree".
  5. ^ See Waehi 2007, #GodsDecrees.
  6. ^ The biblical hermeneutics used by libertarian Christians can be found at Waehi 2007. The biblical hermeneutics used by Christian libertarians depends upon what kind of Christian libertarian is at hand.
  7. ^ a b See Duncan, III 1994.
  8. ^ For instance, Waehi 2007 shows that libertarian Christianity discourages deducing human law directly from moral law, while Duncan, III 1994 shows that theonomic reconstructionists recommend deducing human law from moral law.
  9. ^ See proof at Waehi 2007, #Relation between Natural Law and Human Law.
  10. ^ Rothbard 1982, p. 231, Chapter 29, "Robert Nozick and the Immaculate Conception of the State".
  11. ^ Sandlin 1996.
  12. ^ Waehi 2006, Theological Glossary/#subject matter jurisdiction.
  13. ^ Compare Duncan, III 1994 and Waehi 2007, #Relation between Natural Law and Human Law.
  14. ^ See Waehi 2007.
  15. ^ Rothbard 1982
  16. ^ See Rothbard 1982, pp. 5-26 (re: natural law) and pp. 147, 232 (re: social contract).
  17. ^ Locke 1690.
  18. ^ See Rothbard 1982, Chapter 19, "Property Rights and the Theory of Contracts".
  19. ^ See Waehi 2006,"Article I Section 8 Clause 4".
  20. ^ See Waehi 2006, "Memorandum of Law: Contract Enforcement, Involuntary Servitude, & the Social Contract".


  • Divines, Judicious (1649), Westminster Confession of Faith, online at Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics.
  • Duncan, III, J. Ligon (1994), Moses' Law for Modern Government: The Intellectual and Sociological Origins of the Christian Reconstructionist Movement, online at
  • Gordon, T. David (1994), "A Critique of Theonomy: A Taxonomy", Westminster Theological Journal 56.1 (Spring 1994): 23-43, online at
  • Locke, John (1690), Two Treatise of Government, online at McMaster University.
  • Rothbard, Murray (1982), The Ethics of Liberty, New York University Press, ISBN 0-8147-7506-3, online at The Mises Institute.
  • Sandlin, Andrew (1996), "The Libertarian Christian Idea", The Christian Statesman, October, 1996
  • Waehi, Ma (2006), Missing or empty |title= (help), Basic Jurisdictional Principles: A Theological Inventory of American Jurisprudence.
  • Waehi, Ma (2007), Missing or empty |title= (help), Basic Jurisdictional Principles: An Investigation into the Biblical Undergirdings of Human Law, "Hermeneutical Prolegomenon".