The Principle Approach: Follow-Up (Part 3)

Dear Reader,

Okay, we are up to part 3 here. I first covered the Principle Approach (or Biblical Principle Approach, BPA) as a part of my series on different homeschooling methods, but it has also generated a lot more posts. I would recommend reading parts 1 and 2 for a little background before going further with this one.

In part 2, I was going through the 7 principles of BPA. I have 3 more to go, all of which address the governmental views of BPA. They last 3 principles are:

“5. Our Christian Form of Government
6. How the Seed of Local Self-Government is Planted
7. The Christian Principle of American Political Union”

[from the Principled Mom]

I am not going to look at every aspect of these. Principle #5 really gets to the heart of the political side of this philosophy. It says that the American form of government is the biblical form. The specific aspects of the US government which I have seen them point to are representative government, separation of powers, and the dual form of government (i.e. state and federal government) [“Principle 5,” The Principled Mom]. Principle says, “The form of government proven to best protect life and property is a Christian constitutional federal republic.”

As with each of their principles, there is an internal as well as an external aspect. As we saw in principle #2, self-government is important to BPA. Regarding the internal, Principle says, “As I learn to think governmentally, I can balance the three powers of government to avert the tyranny of self in my
personal conduct.” I am in favor of self-government, and I also think (as Charlotte Mason states in detail in her fourth volume, Ourselves) that there are competing forces within us that we must learn to balance. If one aspect is allowed to reign supreme, then we go astray. An example would be letting our sense of compassion blunt our sense of justice or vice-versa. I am not sure, however, how BPA sees the specifics of “a Christian constitutional federal republic” working out in one’s own heart.

I would like to spend more time, however, on the external side of this principle. The question before us is: Is the American form of government uniquely biblical? We could also ask: if not, what form of government would be biblical? But I am not sure that is a topic I want to tackle right now.

The first issue is that of representative government. BPA says that this goes back to the Old Testament when the ancient Israelites chose their own representatives. There certainly seem to be times when they did so (Deut. 1:13). The early church also chose their own deacons. But there are also many leaders who were not chosen by the people. Moses was not. Neither were the kings. God very directly chose Saul and David, and after them the kingship in Judah was hereditary. Priests were not chosen by the people neither were prophets or judges. Overall, I would say that most leaders, especially those with a lot of power, were chosen by God Himself.

The separation of powers refers to the three branches of our government: legislative, executive, and judicial. Personally, I am a fan of the separation of powers. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, as they say. So dividing up power is good. In the OT, the three main seats of power were prophet, priest and king. Jesus, of course, was all three. Sometimes others also served in more than one role. But these categories do not correspond directly to those of the US government.

Now BPA may have a lot more to say on this. I have read a small fraction of their materials. But the verse I find cited to defend the 3-branch structure of our government is Isaiah 33:22:

“For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver;
the Lord is our king; he will save us.” [ESV]

Admittedly, it would seem that all three functions, judicial (judge), legislative (lawgiver), and executive (king), are present here. However, to understand this verse as legitimizing dividing up these three functions misunderstands how Hebrew parallelism works. The whole point of this verse is that the Lord is all three; there is no division of power. Parallel word pairs in Hebrew poetry can be arranged in a number of ways. The words may be synonymous. They may be complementary (for example men and women or heaven and earth). They may be opposites (the good and the wicked, for example). They may be a larger set and a smaller subset (perhaps the nations and Moab). How are the parallel terms judge, lawgiver and king being used here? I don’t know. But there could be many ways to understand them. First, I would point out that there are four things the Lord does here, not three. He also “saves.” Why not take this as another branch of power, the military? Or if it is spiritual salvation, this could refer to religious power. Even looking at the first three clauses, it is not clear that there is just one way to understand this verse. If all three terms are synonymous, then all three are contained within the one source of power and we need not distinguish them. BPA seems to be taking them as complementary, that is, as three parts of a whole like heaven, earth and seas. But I could also say that king sums up the previous two. A king (in ancient Israel) both judges and gives laws. My point is that there is no reason so assume that these are three complementary terms which are all on equal footing. I would certainly not build a government upon this verse alone.

The third aspect of this principle is the dual form of government found in the balance of federal and state power in the US. The tension between the two has been a continual subject of controversy in our country. We fought a war over it after all. And the debate still remains. We have, for instance, state governments trying to enforce immigration law when they feel the federal government has dropped the ball. At other times, we have the federal government interfering in areas like education that some believe should be handled at a more local level.

When the two come into conflict, BPA seems to prefer the federal:

“Determining what area of government is the supreme law of the land, we consider the State and the Nation which operate over the same territory. If we consider the two commandments of our Lord, we shall recognize that the supreme law of the land is the nation first, then the state. Thus when we travel outside our country, we are not protected as citizens because we are Virginians, Californians, Arizonians, but because we are Americans.” [“Principle Approach Education,” p.7]

I am not really sure how to evaluate this dual nature of our government. What does it mean “if we consider the two commandments of our Lord, we shall recognize that the supreme law of the land is the nation first, then the state”? I assume the reference is to when Christ is asked which is the greatest commandment and He answers first love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, etc. and then love your neighbor as yourself. Are they taking this to mean that the higher power always comes before the lower? Of course, God deserves our allegiance above all else and He is the highest power. But they also elevate the role of the individual which would seem to contradict such a principle. And personally, I would say the government has no right to violate the family which is a much smaller unit. In general, in human relations I would say the principle is to be most loyal to the narrowest circle and to ever widen to more distant relations and acquaintances. I guess I should reiterate here that I have only read a small fraction of what there is to read about the Principle Approach so I think I just don’t have all the facts here.

There is, apparently, also some connection of the dual form of government to law and grace (“The Christian Form of Our Government“). I also find this statement:

“dual form of government: dual levels of responsibility and authority (children over one another, parents over children, God over parents, etc.) There are ‘two sovereign spheres within one sovereign body of law.'” [“The Christian Form of Our Government,”]

My first thought is that children don’t have authority over each other. My second is that “dual” doesn’t fit here. Aren’t there instead many levels of authority? And some of these authorities such as parents over children are temporary.

Though I haven’t really touched in principles 6 and 7, I feel I am reaching the end of my understanding here. Unless someone wants to give me a free copy of the Principle Approach book, I am probably not going to have much more to say 🙂


One response to this post.

  1. […] Principle Approach and follow-ups 1, 2, 3 and […]


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