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Update: Matt Anderson provides a clarification and follow-up.

Matt Anderson offers a hypothesis:

Here's my hypothesis as to why young evangelicals tend to be drawn toward Randian libertarianism or Obama-style pragmatic liberalism: we think of ourselves as elites, even though most of us aren't. This is particularly true of white, college-educated younger evangelicals who went off to Wheaton and Biola, and who are the only young evangelicals the media ever seems to talk about.

Our dissatisfaction with the mainstream evangelical populism we grew up in makes us particularly susceptible to either top-down statism or ubermensch libertarianism. Obama or Ron Paul, Jim Wallis or Ayn Rand. Both appeal to our elite aspirations, as in the former we can politically engineer society to bring about the Kingdom and in the latter we get to be captains of industry.

Joe Carter chimes in:

The fact that they aren't qualified for such roles doesn't seem to daunt them in the least. They have energy and ambition and opinions of their own. What else could they possibly need?

The problem is not just that such an attitude is off-putting (though it definitely is obnoxious) but rather that it prevents young talented evangelicals from adequately preparing to live up to their elite aspirations. They need to spend many years (ideally between ten to fifteen) in preparation and service to others before they can fully grasp how the world works, much less how they can fix it.

Of course, being told they need to gain wisdom and experience before they can be truly effective is the last thing any young person wants to hear. But young evangelicals should humbly consider the example of our Lord: If the savior of the world saw fit to toil in working-class obscurity for thirty years before embarking on his cosmos-changing mission, it probably won't hurt you to spend a bit more time forming your intellect and character before you're ready to make your mark on the culture.

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86 thoughts on “Why Are Younger Evangelicals Attracted to Libertarianism or Liberalism?”

  1. I want to ask what an “elite” is? – I think for college kids it sometimes means the same thing as consumerism. It’s a form of elitism that is bias in favor of the new and critical of anything old (even, ironically, consumerism). But, to be elite takes counter-cultural effort, being consumeristic is nearly first-nature.

    It’s not about Libertarianism or Liberalism… it’s about pointing out that our parents are wrong. And if these L agendas somehow help people or make the world a better place we can add Jesus to it, like pork in a bill, and then think of ourselves as spiritual elite when in reality we’re just low-level individualistic consumers buying into the latest trends because our parents don’t.

  2. Phil Long says:

    I tend to disagree with the idea that talented, ambitious, eager, dedicated youth need to wait for seasoning. What they need is humility, direction, and mentoring as they launch out to affect the world. Lacking this, however, seasoning can be an effective substitute.

    1. Peter says:

      I agree with your comment. In many cases throughout history very influential people started in their path at a young age. Some historical theologians started teaching or preaching as young as fourteen. Jonathan Edwards started preaching in his early twenties.

  3. Justin says:

    What in the world is Mark Anderson reading? Conservative evangelicals still get their usual dose of media coverage.

    I’m going to offer another hypothesis, one that isn’t at all new and doesn’t have anything to do with people thinking they’re elite when they’re not: younger evangelicals got tired of some of their predecessors insisting you can’t be a Christian if you’re not conservative.

    1. Justin says:

      Correction: Matt Anderson, not Mark.

  4. The real question is: how elite does one have to be to assess, critique and evaluate elites?

    1. monica says:

      this is my question!

      1. Just for the record, I’m not critiquing elites. I don’t think it’s a pejorative term.

        1. Thanks for the clarification.

  5. Eric says:

    It’s a great question to ask, “Why do young people tend towards the extremes?”. But I think you’re a little off in your diagnosis.

    Young people today are faced with a smorgasbord of idealogical choices. The biggest problem is not hearing what options there are to believe, but how to make sense of them. So, young people typically default to following the following types of people:

    1) Intellectually smart. The people have to have good ideas.

    2) Passionate. This may be the number one thing that draws people to them, they care about something passionately and will communicate that way.

    3) Black-and-White. Young people have so many idealogical choices that it comforts them to hear someone say “This is the only right way to view the world.”

    Combine all three in one person and you have dynamite (John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, Glen Beck, Keith Olbermann, Ayn Rand)

    We’re a generation of people who are just waiting for some brilliant, passionate, dichotomistic person to tell us what to believe. (or what Bible translation to buy)

    Now, as far as needing to wait a few years before changing the world, I’m glad that people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and other young world changers didn’t listen to people to tell them to wait. The job of young leaders is to see how the world WILL be and bring that to fruition, not learn how it currently is. We’ve got enough people who do that.

    1. Joe Carter says:

      ***I’m glad that people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and other young world changers didn’t listen to people to tell them to wait. ***

      There are exceptions to every rule, of course. My recommendation would be to prepare for obscurity and if God plucks you out of it, follow his prodding.

      Also, I think it’s worth noting that all of the examples you provide are from the field of technology. I’m all in favor of young people being forward-thinking on technology (though they should be more reflective about its disruptive effects). But in general they need more wisdom and experience—adn that takes patience. Personally, I’m sick of reading essays by single 24 year olds about how we should embrace gay marriage. They don’t even know what they don’t know so why should anyone listen to them?

      1. Charles Z. says:

        “Personally, I’m sick of reading essays by single 24 year olds about how we should embrace gay marriage. They don’t even know what they don’t know so why should anyone listen to them?”

        Brother Carter,

        I respectfully disagree.
        Does being 24 years of age disqualify one from having well-formed thoughts on the topic? No.
        Does being single? No.
        Do they need first hand knowledge of such matters? Not necessarilly. Here is a topic that you have no firsthand knowledge either (gay marriage). Should we discredit you for it?

        Would you be sick of reading a single 24 year olds writings against gay marriage? Or would that be okay since he is towing the party line?

        At 24, sure, experience and knowledge may be limited. BUT if they are relying upon the solid experience and writings of older men and women with tested and true thoughts, why denounce them?
        If you denounce their opinions then you are denouncing the well developed lives and thoughts of 50 year olds writing on the topic. Is it okay for 24 year olds to rely upon the insights of 50 year olds?

        1. Pia Rosario says:

          Thank you for your sound rebuke of Brother Carter.

          I pray he will read it with humility and pray for wisdom
          in these matters.

          We still love you, Brother Carter.

        2. Hasn’t the Bible already spoken to the lifestyle of homosexuality? ‘Nuff said.

          1. Charles Z. says:

            Hasn’t the Bible already spoken on…well, every essential topic?

            Despite that we still have the duty of providing commentary on the topics it speaks of and providing justification for our views. There are competing views out there with differing consequences. The views we take on the interpretations of the Bible matter greatly. A smug “nuff said” won’t silence issues that The Bible speaks of. The “nuff said” mentality can teeter too closely to an anti-intellectual stance of a fundamentalist. This is why the “nuff said” tag line is FAR from having said enough.

          2. Reformed Orthodoxy says:


            Your answer is a sort of non-answer. A person should ask, “Yes, but what has The Bible said on this issue? How do we understand it? How do we apply it? Is this what it really said and how do we know? How do we apply it in the 21st century and beyond in different contexts?”

          3. Sam of Christ says:

            How is this a helpful response, Bryan? It seems to assume that exegesis does not matter!!!

          4. Rachel Carmichael says:

            Hi Bryan,

            I don’t think that your response was particularly edifying.

            Imagine if we were to take your basic response and change just a couple of words.

            “Hasn’t the Bible already spoken to justification by faith? ‘Nuff said.”

            In that case, Bryan, a monk named Luther was wasting his time.

            “Hasn’t the Bible already spoken to the lifestyle of the oppressed? ‘Nuff said.

            Then every theologian consoling the poor or oppressed is spilling ink that need not be spilled.

            Bryan, The Bible is a foundation for our thinking. Our thinking is to be built atop it. Your comment sounds a lot like those who say, “I have no creed but The Bible!”

            I humbly ask that you re-consider your position. Just because The Bible addressed a topic does not mean that conversation is not to ensue. If anything, when The Bible says something it should result in us having more to say! Churches would be pretty silent without the necessary explanation of many difficult Bible topics. A church that is silent is no church at all, Bryan.

            In The Lamb,


  6. Tad says:

    This to me makes no sense. It starts with the assumption that conservative politics is the correct view for Christians to hold.
    Maybe people have gone to these two positions because they have seen major flaws in the Conservative movement and its marriage with evangelical politics. The conservatives in politics have been guilty of much wrong doing but the evangelical church still stands beside them.
    Ignoring one’s conscience is not good and if one’s conscience can not stand the idea of supporting a party that supports unjust wars, torture among other things than they cannot vote for that person/party.
    Lets try to not judge are fellow Christians for the political votes they make, thee Bible is unclear on how we should vote, so we must vote by our conscience.

    1. Jonathan Baird says:

      Exactly! If the assumption is that conservative traditional right wing politics should be the de facto position for young evangelicals, then yes, we may be just a pendulum swung too far one way, but that is a big assumption.

      I am a Milton Friedman libertarian for full disclosure.

  7. Charles Naselli says:

    Matt, I have a small quibble with your otherwise interesting hypothesis. In what sense are you characterizing Obama’s liberalism as “pragmatic”?

    “Pragmatic liberal” makes me think of Bill Clinton. Obama seems the very definition of an elitist, ivy-league ideologue. And there are about 60 Democrat congressmen who are wishing he had been more pragmatic these last couple of years.

    1. Charles, that’s a great question. I think you might be unfairly equating pragmatic with “staying in office.” : ) That said, some of the liberal/libertarians (Glenn Greenwald, for instance) are really, really upset with Obama’s handling of civil liberties. That makes me think he’s more pragmatically oriented than most people on the right think (and I say this as someone who has serious, serious disagreements with his policies).


  8. i guess the article should have some caveats. – other than being right or for wise, sensible reasons, why (else?) would young people flock to extremes. I think about passionate flaky young adults I know – who know everything but have never had a job.

    I think elitism, well, more particularly consumerism is a good answer to that. – but I do have a really narrow definition of young evangelical in mind.

    I can’t speak for the author, but I really don’t think he’s critiquing or discouraging every young person. Or even suggesting that they are all motivated solely by one factor. But I think if he’s saying that young people can be prideful and inexperienced and that factors into their politics – I’ll think I’ll give him that one.

  9. Tad Newton says:

    Liberalism and Libertarianism are sinful worldviews. In other words, this post is asking why are young evangelicals attracted to sin. I suggest that it is the result of our pride since the Fall. Add to that the particular temptation of youth to assume they know more than their elders. Furthermore, orthodoxy and tradition seems ‘lame’ to such youth.

    1. Jonathan Baird says:

      Tad, please explain how libertarianism as a political philosophy is sinful.

      1. Tad says:

        or for that matter most of modern liberal politics?
        (aside from homosexuality and abortion)
        We could turn this around and ask why older evangelicals are supporting a party of violence or greed which is sin.

        1. Barry says:


          I don’t think you know the generation you’re speaking of. There are loads (and I mean loads) of these younger evangelicals (of whom I am a part) that have been drawn to orthodoxy and tradition in remarkable ways.

          Lumping them all into the category of pride and smoothing over the whole argument with the story of the Fall is intellectually lazy.

          1. Huston says:

            Do you think that Tad was generalizing. Much in the way that you are? Are generalizations okay?

            1. Barry says:

              Generalizing is the mark of the amateur. I can assure you that I am not an amateur (I have a PhD in Systematic Theology – do YOU?). I am standing up for orthodoxy despite what your crass generalization insists. I am young and Reformed and orthodox despite my age.

              We are going against the grain in bold ways while having a bold faith.

              1. Barry Westbrook says:

                Perhaps we should clarify who the different “barrys” are. My post was the first one, not the second. And I don’t know who the second Barry is or why they are replying to this post as if it’s their own….

                Huston in response to your comment: when did I generalize? I don’t think I did.

              2. Barry Westbrook says:

                Huston, when are you going to respond? I have the patience and humility of a saint but you are testing both of these qualities of mine by making comments and then not backing them up. Please do not make bald assertions.

                Lord, show my fellow saints your grace. Amen!

              3. Scott says:

                Good for you Barry!

              4. Barry Westbrook says:

                Dude whoever this guy is that keeps posting in my name needs to stop. It’s childish and annoying.

              5. Eloquorius says:

                Hey “Barry”… you may have a Ph.D in Systematic Theology, but I strongly encourage you to at least start working working towards an Associate’s degree in humility.

                The one time Paul recounted *his* credentials (Philippians 3) is was NOT to win an argument with his uber-high end credentials, but as to downplay his personal successes, legalism and even education vis-a-vis being humbled by the Gospel.

                Your “Shut up, I’m more educated than YOU!” attitude stinks and it’s what ruins comment forums like this one.

      2. Huston says:

        I don’t know about Tad but I find Libertarianism to be sinful. It denies the importance of community and too much emphasizes free will of man. That emphasis on the free will of man to change his condition is what leads one to reject the gospel.

        1. Jonathan Baird says:

          Libertarianism is based on a teaching that man owns himself. Obviously this is against what the Bible teaches. God owns us. Libertarianism is very individualistic. However, it seems to me to be the best option given our pluralistic society. It is for very limited government, fiscal responsibility, personal accountability, and individual liberty. These are all good values. In my mind, the only other option for governance for Christians would be to seek to enforce all of our values on our nation. Enforcing laws on drinking to excess, regulating sexual behavior and other morally reprehensible acts. It seems to me that the Christian right fights to regulate some of these behaviors but not all. Why the inconsistency? Why shouldn’t we seek prohibition again? Why shouldn’t we seek to outlaw adultery? etc?

    2. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

      “In other words, this post is asking why are young evangelicals attracted to sin.”

      Why do young evangelicals tend to be craven people-pleasers instead of honorable God-pleasers?

      Why do young evangelicals want to aid-and-abet and enable the abortion and gay marriage platforms of secular liberal Democrats?

      1. Why do young evangelicals tend to be craven people-pleasers instead of honorable God-pleasers?

        Why do young evangelicals want to aid-and-abet and enable the abortion and gay marriage platforms of secular liberal Democrats?

        Exactly. And why would young Evangelicals want to help bring about the persecution of their brethren by aligning themselves with those who advocate such things?

        1. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

          Blue Collar Todd,

          Are you familar with J. Gresham Machen? Here’s a review that explains perhaps why some younger evangelicals are attracted to Liberalism:

          “However, in the face of new waves of liberalism sweeping over the evangelical community, Christianity and Liberalism is as relevant today as when it was written. Indeed there is an eerie sense of déjà vu as Machen identifies the apostasies of old liberalism that have resurfaced in the new liberalism of the emergent church and other movements. A quick listing of some of these issues will show the similarities.

          Old liberalism taught:

          1. A sentimental religion (p. xi); Christianity is life, not doctrine (pp. 17, 38-39).
          2. That doctrines are unimportant (pp. 5-6, 16-24, 43, 47) and experience, not truth, is what matters (p. xiv). Yet liberalism uses evangelical terminology which makes it all the more dangerous.
          3. That tolerance is more important than truth (pp. 15, 40-45).
          4. That we should not seek to know God but to feel Him (p. 47).
          5. The fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man (pp. 51-55).
          6. That sin is not our great problem (pp. 55-58).
          7. Paganism (the enjoyment of life) as a substitute for Christianity (p. 56).
          8. That the Bible is a musty record—authority rests in the individual and in pragmatism (pp. 60, 66-67).
          9. That we are to follow the example of Jesus, not be concerned with His redeeming work (pp. 70, 82)
          10. That the resurrection was not historical but amounts to Christ’s influence through us (p. 92).
          11. That the Christian doctrine of salvation is to be criticized because it is narrow and exclusive (pp. 104-104), absurd (p. 106), and presents a cold, cruel and unloving view of God (pp. 109-111).
          12. Enslavement to law and works by minimizing grace (p. 121).
          13. That the betterment of the earth is the church’s agenda (pp. 125-134).

          Machen ends his book with a call to defend the faith, eject false teachers from ministerial positions, separate from liberals if necessary, and serve in love and hope for God is still sovereign (pp. 146-152). Nevertheless he admits, “… in the meanwhile our souls are tired” (p. 151).”

          From Here.

          1. Thanks for that link that summarizes Machen, I will post it today. It has been a little while since I last read it. I think that might be a book that needs to be read once every year or so since it is so relevant to today. I think Liberalism is a religion that stands in total antithesis to biblical Christianity and trying to show Christians this on a range of issues is what drives my blogging. What do we think the consequences are going to be if a false religion ever gains total control of the State? It cannot be good for Christians.

  10. CS says:

    I tend to get drawn toward libertarianism (in an ideological sense, not in party affiliation) because as an evangelical believer I am drawn to the manner of constitutional interpretation that I see coming from men like Ron Paul (who is a Republican by party, not a Libertarian). I don’t like when people twist Scripture to allow for things it clearly prohibits, and I don’t like when people do the same thing to the constitution.

    The constitution is not infallible–which is why it can be amended–and that is the biggest difference between the two documents, of course. The constitution can and should be amended at times to better accommodate a modern society, but shouldn’t be jumbled up with postmodern interpretation and “implied consent” in order to allow for things it clearly prohibits.

    This is why a Ron Paul type appeals to me as an evangelical. He’s one of the few who seems to actually care about his oath to uphold the constitution, and he tries to govern according to its principles without twisting them around to accommodate the whims of the day. Most other politicians (from both parties) tend to govern in the manner that seems best to them and according to the wisdom of the age, and then twist the constitution to support their views, whether it actually does or not. Rather than amending it if necessary, they bypass that process and just reinterpret it in order to achieve their goals in a more expedient manner.

    I never thought of it as having anything to do with wanting to be a captain of industry.

  11. Phil Long says:

    The Sermon On The Mount gives us ample evidence of orthodoxy and tradition being used to hijack truth for strictly sinful human purposes and adequate warning of how susceptible we all can be to that. I don’t believe the impulsiveness of youth has cornered the market on selfish arrogance. Perhaps this movement away from some representations of conservatism are inherently corrective in nature.

  12. John says:

    I’m a bit puzzled as to how libertarianism can be equated with elitism. Perhaps I’m missing something, but libertarianism has been and continues to be a fringe movement in America. How is a fringe movement ‘elitist’?

    The ‘elites’ seem to me the ones in power–what Angelo Codevilla calls ‘the ruling class.’ Aren’t they the elites?

    Have we all forgotten what the founders of this nation stood for politically? Were they not essentially what we would now call libertarians in the mold of Ron Paul? I’ll grant that libertarianism was once a movement of elitists, but it is certainly not any more–nor has it been for at least 100 years.

    Should we all be surprised that what is considered mainstream political thought in this crooked and perverse generation is both crooked and perverse? Shouldn’t we find righteous political thought on the margins?

    Perhaps younger evangelicals are turning toward libertarianism because of the rampant corruption, graft, cronyism, and outright theft being perpetrated upon this nation by mainstream conservatives and liberals?

    1. John says:

      Sorry, that should be ‘grift’ not ‘graft’.

  13. Erin says:

    I agree with CS- the young people that I know who are libertarians are simply disillusioned with political conservatives. To me, it’s an issue of having a consistent, principled approach. Ron Paul seems to have this, which is why he’s so popular. McCain and his brand of pandering Republicanism, not so much.

    I’m a bit confused by Joe Carter’s point- he seems to be saying that these young “elites” are trying to get something out of their elitism. Are we not simply talking about how people participate in the political process, i.e. demonstrating and voting? I have no aspirations to become, as he so lovingly put it, a “successful writer/pundit/leader, etc.” But I will vote for what I think is wise.

    Young evangelicals don’t have a corner on selfish arrogance, as Phil said, and they certainly don’t have a corner on being obnoxious.

  14. Erin says:

    From the original posting from Carter:

    “If the savior of the world saw fit to toil in working-class obscurity for thirty years before embarking on his cosmos-changing mission, it probably won’t hurt you to spend a bit more time forming your intellect and character before you’re ready to make your mark on the culture. ”

    = Get off my lawn!

  15. Ian Clary says:

    Here’s a relevant quote: “It was Calvin’s doctrine of creation and natural law and the epistemological (common sense) realism of the Reformed orthodox that began to push me and my Augustinian view of sin in a more libertarian direction.” R. Scott Clark. From

  16. DavidGG says:

    It is not a new phenomenon, J. Gresham Machen was a political libertarian. Just check out his views on J-Walking or his speech before congress on education. Libertarianism is often seen as the outflow of Chapt. 20 of the Westminster Confession and its view of the liberty of conscience, as opposed to supporting the welfare-warfare state.

    Perchance that would be a better place to start that to think that someone is in sin for daring to follow Spurgeon’s Dictum, “When faced with two choices, both of them being evil, do neither.”

  17. Chris Hubbs says:

    I’m not sure I’ve read two more condescending blog excerpts all year. The assumption that conservativism is the default “correct” position is faulty at best. To conclude that young evangelicals take the other positions only due to either “lack of wisdom and experience” or a rebellion against the positions of their parents is ludicrous.

    Could it be that we have moved to these positions because we have seriously thought and prayed through the issues and decided that we agree more with the libertarians or the liberals? Oh, wait, we’re not wise or experienced enough to do that. Sorry.

  18. Jonathan Baird says:

    It seems to me that libertarians are more consistent in their stance on small government, fiscal responsibility, personal accountability, liberty of conscience, and other conservative principles than are Republicans. At the same time many “liberals” are drawn to it for the fact that it does not seek to use the government to restrict personal freedoms, that many of us (me included) find to be morally reprehensible (prostitution, drug use, homosexual behavior etc.) There is a difference between saying something is wrong and using the government to restrict it. Otherwise, lets bring back prohibition, ban cigarette manufacturing, outlaw all homosexual and sinful heterosexual behaviors.

  19. Contrary to several commenters, if you actually read the full piece carefully you’ll see that I don’t presume that conservative political thought is correct. The question of which political position is most commensurate with our Christian beliefs is a separate one from the one I am pursuing. That conversation needs to be had on its own terms.



  20. Phil says:

    The obvious challenge for these young evangelicals so eager to correct the perceived mistakes of their entrenched and doltish elders is to maintain a gracious humility that they find so lacking as they eagerly engage for God’s glory rather than for their own egotistical bias. I suppose that frequently (but not exclusively or exhaustively) comes with experience.

  21. Brad says:

    Matt Anderson: Do you have a lot of interaction with Wheaton alumni?

    1. Yup. And I like ‘em a lot. : )

  22. Jonathan Baird says:


    I appreciate your thoughts, but you do say that both liberalism and libertarianism fail to take into account original sin. It isn’t a huge logical jump to assume that you are saying that traditional conservative political philosophy is more in line with Christian belief than liberalism (I agree with you by the way!) or libertarianism. If this is a leap too far, forgive me for reading too much into what you said.

    “A conservatism that takes its cues from the reality of original sin would reject both these options, but since ‘sin’ is itself suspicious nomenclature that we prefer to reserve for others, there is little room for this sort of conservatism in the younger evangelical world.”

    1. Jonathan,

      Thanks for the reply. I do say that, and happen to believe it. And it *is* a fair reading to suppose that I think that “traditional conservative political philosophy is more in line with Christian belief than liberalism…or libertarianism.”

      However, that’s different claim than what has been made several times in the comments, which is that somehow I presumed that in my hypothesis (that I intentionally said twice was only a hyopthesis) about young evangelical’s elite aspirations. They are distinct points that I affirm for different reasons. I take responsibility for the confusion, which is why I have tried to clarify here in the comments.



      1. Jonathan Baird says:

        I gotcha, thanks brother!

  23. Chris says:

    I am a Wheaton College alum. I am sure there are some, but I cannot think of a fellow alum who would identify him or herself as a Randian-style libertarian. In fact, I know very few Wheaton alums who would identify themselves as libertarians at all.

    However, I know many Wheaton alums who would identify themselves as liberals, but in the classical (not contemporary American) sense of the term. Although ‘libertarianism’ and ‘classic liberalism’ share things in common, I think there are important differences between the two. The most important difference is in the area of anthropology.

    Classic liberals from Adam Smith to Milton Friedman to Thomas Sowell all sagree on one thing: they assume as irrefutable the depravity of mankind as a starting point for their reasoning (even though they tend not employ the theological terminology of depravity)–and many of them aren’t even theists, let alone Christians. Randian libertarians, on the other hand, do not assume the fundamental depravity of mankind–quite the opposite. For example:

    Thomas Sowell describes the starting point of his political philosophy as the “tragedy of the human condition” and believes “Human beings have been making mistakes and committing sins as long as there have been human beings.” Thus, classic liberals advocate laisse faire capitalism and limited government as the best options given the human condition without endorsing as virtuous or morally praiseworthy the self-interested motives of the people who enable such institutions to function.

    On the other hand, Ayn Rand believes “The concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” Thus, Randians are essentially opposed to any form of government–they are anarchists; everything humans do out of self-interest is intrinsically praiseworthy.

    To be sure, neither Randian libertarianism nor classic liberalism are Christian. But, what makes elements of classic liberalism especially appealing to me–and others (though by no means all!) of my Wheaton alums–is a vision of the human condition that is fundamentally consonant with biblical teaching. As one who is partial to portions of classical liberalism, I am also very critical of the ideology as well. And, though I love Rand’s writing, I find her worldview to be repulsive.

    1. Peter says:

      Thank you for pointing out this important distinction. A libertarian political philosophy is not necessarily equivalent to a Randian worldview. In fact, Ayn Rand herself seemed to abhor libertarians. Objectivism as a philosophy is quite different from favoring a free-market, free-trade, a non-interventionist foreign policy, and other traditional libertarian positions, which seem to be issues Christians can legitimately disagree over.

  24. Jimmy says:

    Showing some grace to young evangelicals might be a better way to get the message across.

  25. JS says:

    Mayhaps the analysis should be much simpler:

    Some young evangelicals are drawn to liberalism because of the infusion of the social gospel into whatever passes for evangelicalism these days.

    Others are drawn to libertarianism because they’re not liberal and they’re tired of what passes for conservatism these days. It’s just the next swing of the pendulum in conservative ideology: neo-conservatism is an outright disaster, so the logical response (from an historian’s perspective, anyway) is a turn towards paleo-conservatism.

    Now, Young _Reformed_ evangelicals with a libertarian political philosophy are in good company: Machen was one, too, and we do love our Machen.

  26. joe says:

    I didn’t realize there were so many Christians who held classical liberal, libertarian, and/or paleo-conservative (call it what you will) view points. Glad to know that I’m not alone! Puts a smile on my face :)

  27. Bill Burns says:

    Perhaps, just perhaps, the reason why young evangelicals are attracted to lefty liberalism (as over against classical liberalism) or libertarianism, and even conservatism, for that matter, is because the Christian faith, in this postmodern, reductionistic historical moment is easily confused with politics, is easily _replaced_ by politics. In the case of Randian libertarianism, or secular liberalism, the confusion and/or replacement is complete.

  28. Anonymous Coward says:

    I’m young, restless, and reformed. I’m a libertarian. I love John Piper. I learned about Ayn Rand from John Piper. I think if you like John Piper, believe in his Christian Hedonism, you will see some beauty and tragedy in his analysis of her work. I think it’s because Pastor John has been humble, not an elitist, that he has carefully considered her ideas. They have captivated my mind too, and I want to welcome you to consider his words which have been so compelling to me. May we take his rare lead and consider humbly what might change us and make us more reflective and less willing to accept the status quo. The charge of elitism can be an anti-intellectual smokescreen, or even worse, an excuse to not fully explore the consequences of the ideologies and parties, even test the spirits, that are at play in the world today. May we as so many in the reformed world have been willing to do, give credit where it is due, rather than further the factions that break us down and divide us. Elders are learned men for a reason, and qualification for ministry doesn’t come overnight. I think the categories presented herein are a little too fast and quick, although I welcome them as another’s personal reflections; let’s just not use them to further exclude and divide, but understand and dialogue about the important issues at play here. Again, to commend the John Piper article on the Ethics of Ayn Rand:

    Anonymous Coward

  29. Anderson is dead on about the Statism of the Left, particularly with Jim Wallis and those that agree with him. The Religious Left is making a religion out of the State and seeking to give it ultimate power over every aspect of our lives. They appeal to “social justice” in order to guilt us into supporting the increasing power of government over our lives. This will ultimately enable the State to replace the Church and then turn on the Church. I suggest we look toward Jesus’ call to love another, love for the brethren as a political guide.

    If we do, hopefully we will see that Christians cannot align themselves like Wallis the Left since they are helping create an intense bias against Christianity by propagating sins clearly condemned in the Bible.

    It amazes me that Christians are actually concerned about how the world perceives them and that we are seen for what we are against. Jesus said we would be hated by the world and persecuted for preaching the Gospel and standing for righteousness. Christians should stand in the gap for the holiness of God, for the holiness of their brethren, for the unborn, for marriage, for the truth, for the Gospel. As we do that, the world will hate us and say we are just “against” this or that. Remember, friendship with the world is enmity against God.

    1. Tad says:

      I would just like to point out that I think your equating Liberal politics in the US with Statism is absolutely ridiculous. Yes they believe in a partially planned economy (the bible says nothing about this either way), the partial redistribution of wealth, and they may support some things we consider sin (Homosexual marriage, and abortion) but to declare outright that they are trying to replace the church is ridiculous, and unproven, or even backed up. Further more it seems to me that conservatives would be the ones more likely to ban religions and set bad precedents in that regard (aka I have met conservatives who want to ban the muslim religion in America) Open your eyes and look, both parties in America have moral and ethical issues that dont line up with the Bible, you either have to choose which one bothers you the least or find a third party that does fully agree or not vote.

      1. I would just like to point out that I think your equating Liberal politics in the US with Statism is absolutely ridiculous.

        Seems like the last two years make the point quite well. This can be easily made evident in considering who is advancing policies that get control over our lives. Maybe Totalitarian is a better word since Liberals hold their views in a dogmatic way and they want to intimidate anyone who questions their views. This is particularly clear with the issue of gay rights. Christian college students must be “re-educated” in order to accept homosexuality or normal if they want to graduate and become counselors. Biblical history is filled with examples of when society and the people of God advance sin the consequence is the persecution of the faithful. This is the end of unchecked Liberalism. I think a biblical world view that is true to sound doctrine necessitates a Conservative understanding of the world. This does not mean one has to be a Republican, but as long as Liberalism dominates the agenda of the Democrats, I think Christians should not align themselves with those who despise the Gospel by seeking to normalize the sin for which Jesus died.

        1. Tad says:

          Legality and normalization are not the same.
          It legal to stand on ones head and quote poetry, this does not mean its normal.

          But to say that American Liberals are totalitarian is completely off as well. This is ridiculous. Totalitarian governments would want to stop people from freely doing things like homosexual sex and things like that.

          American Liberals would be considered moderate in Europe, and while I do agree with everything that goes on in Europe, I do not believe that England, France, Germany, etc are totalitarian regimes.

          Blue Collar Todd you speak which such viciousness to those who disagree with you, always assuming the worst in them. There are Liberals who are Christians who believe that what they are doing is for the betterment of people, and they have concern that the conservative agenda in America makes it harder. I do not believe that any American Liberal that I have ever heard of is a totalitarian. Barak Obama is not a totalitarian.

          1. Up in another comment TUAD posted a summary of Machen’s argument that Liberalism stands in antithesis to Christianity. This has implications not only doctrinally but also in everyday life, including politics and ethics. Spurgeon understood the threat of Liberalism and can articulate better than I can:

            “Now-a-days, if a man is very reverent towards the word of God, and very desirous to obey the Lord’s commands in everything, people say, “He is very precise,” and they shun him; or, with still more acrimony, they say, “He is very bigoted: he is not a man of liberal spirit;” and so they cast out his name as evil.

            Bigotry, in modern parlance, you know, means giving heed to old truths in preference to novel theories; and a liberal spirit, now-a-days, means being liberal with everything except your own money—liberal with God’s law, liberal with God’s doctrine, liberal to believe that a lie is a truth, that black is white, and that white may occasionally be black. That is liberal sentiment in religion—the broad church school—from which may God continually deliver us.”


            “The very persons who talk most about being liberal in their views are generally the greatest persecutors. If I must have a religious enemy, let me have a professed and avowed bigot, but not one of your “free thinkers” or “broad churchmen” as they are called, for there is nobody who can hate as they do; and the lovers of liberal-mindedness who have no creed at all think it to be their special duty to be peculiarly contemptuous to those who have some degree of principle, and cannot twist and turn exactly as they can.”

          2. Dustin says:


            You may want to check out Jonah Goldberg’s book entitled “Liberal Fascism” for a historical/sociopolitical argument that it is in fact the American Left that has been fertile soil for fascist and totalitarian impulses. Just suggesting a book that may help clarify what is a bold misconception on your part that “no American Liberal is a totalitarian.”

          3. Dustin says:


            You may want to check out Jonah Goldberg’s book entitled “Liberal Fascism” for a historical/sociopolitical argument that it is in fact the American Left that has been fertile soil for fascist and totalitarian impulses. I’m just suggesting a book that may help clarify what appears to be a misconception on your part that “no American Liberal is a totalitarian.” That’s just not a historically accurate statement.

            Hope the book helps clarify some things for you as it did for me!


            1. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

              I’m just suggesting a book that may help clarify what appears to be a misconception on your part that “no American Liberal is a totalitarian.” That’s just not a historically accurate statement.”

              Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, is not handling the results of the recent election very well. Here’s an excerpt:

              “Nancy Pelosi and her top deputies scrambled to put down a rebellion Monday as discontented Democrats gathered for the first time since the party fumbled power in the midterm elections earlier this month.

              Pelosi and Reps. George Miller (Calif.) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who co-chair the committee-assigning Steering and Policy panel, plotted behind closed doors to kill a proposal that would make their appointive posts elective. Some rank-and-file lawmakers are unhappy with the extent to which Pelosi can unilaterally reward and punish lawmakers by giving or withholding choice committee assignments and the conferred power that makes Miller and DeLauro her chosen enforcers.

              Democratic aides described Pelosi’s camp as “freaked” by the challenges to her authority. Aides to other lawmakers say Pelosi’s staff members have placed intimidating calls to offices of members who have spoken out against the outgoing speaker or have refused to immediately promise their support for her run for minority leader.”

              Read more:

  30. Michael says:

    What is wrong with libertarians? From all the research Ive done Libertarians seem to be the closest to what the founding fathers were. It almost seems like you equate liberals with libertarians… which is opposite. Libertarians are the REAL conservatives. Republicans these days are just Democrats who are a few years behind. I have always considered myself a Libertarian or a Constitutionalist (actually because of my parents, not in spite of them as Samuel Sutter hypothesized).

    I am eager to know the truth… if there is something unbiblical about Libertarianism (other than a few libertarians who support abortion) please let me know. I desire for my political views to mesh with the Bible as much as possible. -Mike

  31. Dave Smith says:

    I’m a 23 year old Libertarian because I’m sick of the elites, not because I want to be one.

  32. Jarod says:

    What is the expectation here? Should Christians be monolithic in their political beliefs? If we should, tell me who I am to vote for.

  33. lander says:

    Biola? Elite? Uhh, well, ok. I hear they have a spiffy new honors program. And now they’re elite. Well done Biola!

  34. I think we brand liberalism in different ways; I visualize those championing abortion and marching for the rights of homosexuals to marry.

    Possibly the reason that many young people jump on the liberal bandwagon is because the world champions the
    gray area” and the church fails to staunchly teach truth. We sit by gag-mouthed and watch as science classes detail our rise from a primordial goo and wonder why kids question Sunday School dogma.

    If the Church shouldered the responsibilty of teaching God’s Word as it should, we would see many more young people embracing conservative values.

  35. Bob says:

    I passed this link along to my five libertarian leaning sons and daughters and encouraged dialogue and discussion. What followed was a back and forth conversation that one of my kids said felt like they were all back home sitting around the dinner table.

    I thought I’d add my son John’s response to the post, which he posted on his tumblr:

    A Response to Matt Anderson’s “Hypothesis as why young evangelicals tend to be drawn toward Randian libertarianism or Obama-style pragmatic liberalism”

    Dad sent out a link to this article to mom, my siblings, and me this morning. Amy agreed to read the article because Mr. Anderson “called us younger evangelicals instead of hipster christians” (a term particularly disfavorable to some of us). It’s not hard to convince me to read something about libertarians, especially with the promise of a rousing family discussion. Here’s my reaction to Anderson’s hypothesis:

    Warning signs immediately start going off in my mind when I read a piece that glosses over distinctions between libertarianism and Objectivism, Ron Paul and Ayn Rand. I understand the impulse to attach Rand’s name to a philosophy you’re criticizing—her views are eminently anti-Christian and irreconcilable with Gospel. Problem is: I don’t know any Randian young evangelicals. I don’t know that such a contradiction could be contained within a person: both Jesus and Rand would demand to be Lord, and one of the philosophies would necessarily wilt away. I know a few young libertarian evangelicals, and they are far more likely to be influenced by Ron Paul, Hayek, Rothbard, and Friedman (none of whom were Objectivists) than Ayn Rand.

    Unfortunately, the sloppiness that led Mr. Anderson to claim that younger evangelicals are being initiated into the cult of the “Goddess of the Market” pervades his argumentation. Anderson asserts that young evangelicals are drawn to liberalism and libertarianism because “we think of ourselves as elites, even though most of us aren’t.” In the first place, this thesis is particularly unkind (defining “kindness,” as my Dad did in a family camp sermon series on the Fruit of the Spirit, as a willingness to judge charitably, to assume the best about someone else and his or her motives). I can think of a number of reasons why someone would be attracted to libertarianism:

    Strong convictions about the importance of individuals’ rights

    Deep suspicions about the desirability of a powerful government, whether because concerns about tyranny, incompetence, or corruption

    Economic arguments about the inefficiency of the state and the superior mechanisms of the market

    An apocalyptic desire (somewhat post-millennial?) to see plowshares beaten into swords as the governments of men fall away to be replaced by the perfect Kingdom of Heaven (see Isaiah 2:1-5)

    An apocalyptic opposition (somewhat pre-millennial?) to government as possibly satanic (see Luke 4:5-8) and susceptible to the end-times machinations of the Beast (See Revelation 13:7-10)

    An elitist urge to rule the world as a John Galt-esque captain of industry

    It is, of course, with the last and lowest of those motives that Mr. Anderson chooses to psychologically profile libertarians. Liberals, meanwhile, want to “politically engineer society to bring about the Kingdom.” Nowhere do we see the possibility that libertarians and liberals are promoting values of freedom, justice, compassion, or equality. They are simply adopting the views that cater to their inner feelings of superiority.

    I do think Mr. Anderson makes one reasonable point: “Our dissatisfaction with the mainstream evangelical populism we grew up in makes us particularly susceptible to either top-down statism or ubermensch libertarianism.” It is probably true that the perceived failures of Christian conservatism during the Bush administration prompted an exodus of young evangelicals from the ideological home in which they were raised. For some, the incompetences and excesses of the Republicans led to a rejection of right-wing conservatism. Others ended up renouncing the pro-government doctrines of both parties (while not necessarily embracing a Nietzschean concept like “übermensch”). But that does not imply that either group quit conservatism because of their egoism, and for that unkind assertion I take issue with Mr. Anderson.

  36. Roger says:

    Wow, me thinks that those to whom these articles were directed doth protesteth too much.

    Rather than blasting the author for his point about Christ serving in obscurity before He began His public ministry, why not actually consider the point? I mean, if it worked for Christ, wouldn’t it work for us?

    I think it’s worth pointing out though, as a friend of mine stated, that the Gen Y’ers were the first generation raised to play little league games in which score wasn’t kept for fear that the losing team….errr….the more point challenged team, would have their precious feelings hurt. You can easily argue that this was the first generation that was raised from infancy to believe that life was all about them. We shouldn’t be surprised then that by the time they had turned 22 they believed that the reins should be turned over to them, lack of experience and service to anyone else be darned.

    1. Tim says:

      Roger, while your support of the idea in this article to wait and gain experience is generally commendable, as an absolute rule it simply doesn’t work.

      The biggest reason it doesn’t work is that this is bad bible exposition.

      The logic sounds like “Jesus waited till he was in his 30s, therefore everyone must wait until there in their 30s.” That kind of logic can say, “Jesus performed miracles, therefore we all must perform miracles.” Which misunderstands unique historical factors that are present in a biblical narrative. We have to look and see if the biblical narrative gives us any evidence to see if this should be considered normative. Otherwise, you can make any fact in a biblical narrative mean anything by putting your own spin on it. Another necessary approach is comparing Scripture by Scripture, which in this case shows us that God calls people of varying ages, and various points in their life, to various roles. Think of the young Apostle John, who, although not a primary leader early on, was still quite important at a young age. Or Timothy, who was young and actually told not to let others despise him for this fact (1 Timothy 4:12). This same principle of interpreting narratives applies to my Jesus and miracles example, the Bible tells us in other places that not all are workers of miracles (1 Cor 12:29).

      C.H Spurgeon was very young as a minister, and he lacked formal education, yet the hand of the Lord appeared to be on him. Now one can say that is an exception to the rule, which is fine, however we must be ready to see these exceptions in others rather than restraining them from doing what the Lord has called them to do, and at the age he has called them to do it.

  37. Tim says:

    I am not sure if this article is very helpful. I have actually noticed the opposite trend. Young, reformed, evangelicals who are drawn into traditional reformed theology with an emphasis on an experimental puritan piety. I’ve mostly seen politically conservative ideology come out of this. And I am not sure where this definition of libertarianism is coming from, most of the libertarians I’ve seen are politically conservative in most ways. Interesting article nonetheless. Thank you.

  38. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    There are professing Christians who vote for Obama and other Democrats because they think Christians ought to be equally concerned with world poverty, healthcare, ecology, &c.

    We find this emphasis among representatives of the Evangelical left, like Ron Sider, Jim Wallis, and Tony Campolo. But in what seems to be a more recent development, we’ve also had mainstream Evangelicals like Craig Blomberg and Darrell Bock telling us they voted for Obama. Likewise, in a faculty survey at Covenant College, 16 profs. identified themselves as Obama voters.

    This raises an interesting question: if Jesus ran for public office, would these Evangelicals vote for Jesus, or for the Democrat candidate?

    There’s a sense in which Jesus has some concern for healthcare. He healed many sick people and exorcised many demoniacs. Yet one can’t say that was his priority. After all, when you consider all the sick people who were alive at the time of Jesus’ public ministry, he only healed a tiny fraction of the totality. The number he healed was statistically insignificant in relation to the worldwide population of sick people.

    And this is despite the fact that Jesus could have cured every single sick man, woman, and child with a mere thought.

    Likewise, it lay within his power to make every poor person instantly and unimaginably rich. But he didn’t. Indeed, he himself was a manual laborer for most of his earthly life.

    He also neglected ecology. For instance, he did nothing to eliminate solid waste dumps. Or the deforestation of Palestine. Or air pollution from wood stoves. To take a few examples.

    On the other hand, he was strong on “family values” like traditional marriage and children. Not to mention true worship.

    This is not to say that Jesus doesn’t care about the physical wellbeing of man, or the ecosystem. Yet that is largely backloaded. It awaits the Eschaton. And you can only participate in the new Eden if you first come to Christ.

    We also need to distinguish between what the Bible permits and what it prescribes. It is certainly permissible to attend to our immediate necessities. Still, it’s striking to compare the agenda of some professing believers with the priorities of Christ.

    Slightly edited from If Jesus Ran for Public Office.

    1. A Humbled TUAD says:

      Jesus would not run for what we call “public office”.
      It would be a theocracy featuring the Bridgegroom as leader.

    2. Sean says:

      There is an important distinction to be made here, which no comments have yet addressed, and that is this: Just because something is a good idea, doesn’t mean that government should compel people to do so. Likewise, just because I disapprove of sin, doesn’t mean I ought to demand to use the force of the government to coerce everybody else in the world to conform to my particular (Biblical) convictions.

      Get it? There is no sense talking about liberal/conservative anymore, as these terms have lost all common meaning in our language at this point. There are two kinds of people – those who think government should make everybody else live according to their way, and those who believe such coercion is immoral.

      I know God does not approve of homosexual relationships, for example, but that doesn’t mean I think the government should throw people in jail for having such relationships. Such “victimless” crimes are spiritual problems that are best corrected by a personal encounter with the living God. The state, as such, cannot effect meaningful change in people’s hearts. Only God can do so.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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