Wrote this summary today:
Throughout history, people have lived under various forms of government. While many of us are privileged today to live in places where we can participate in our own governance, most throughout history have had little say in how they were governed or about the rules of society. We can argue that the representative democracies of today are perhaps the best form of governance for large numbers of people even though this form of government did not exist in biblical times. For this reason we can’t say it is a biblical form of government—indeed, almost all forms of government can be run in a Christian way. But the way a representative democracy tries to “love” every individual, give each person certain basic rights, and take everyone into consideration not only fits with the core principles of the Bible and Christianity in general. It probably fosters those values as strongly or more strongly than any other form of government.
The Enlightenment sense of a social contract seems not only a very helpful but a very Christian way to conceptualize how we live together with one another in a society today. Every individual is part of a society and everyone should be taken into consideration when formulating the rules of that society. God does not show favoritism to people because of their social status, gender, or race (Gal. 3:28), and so everyone needs to be afforded certain basic rights. This translates into the love command, since “love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Rom. 13:10).
Within this framework, a society that is structured in such a way as to bring about a maximum amount of true happiness is a better one than a society that only leads to the happiness and pleasure of a few. Your understanding of God can come into play here. If you believe as I do that God wants people to choose him freely, then you will resonate with an approach to society that allows its individuals extensive freedom—even to live life unwisely—except when it hurts or impinges on the rights of others. But the tension between individual and societal happiness will always be a matter of give-and-take, following the whims of a nation at a given time. While a Christian might favor individual freedom when it does not affect others, Christians will surely err more on the side of helping the many than defending the self-oriented freedom of a few.
The idea of bringing about maximal happiness for a society was a founding principle behind capitalism as an economic system when it began in the 1700s. This is why a Christian can potentially support such a system, because of the principle of loving one’s neighbor. But it is also easy to lose sight of the reason why we can support a capitalistic system. The New Testament sounds very strong warnings about how money can work against fundamental Christian values. Money brings a power that, given human nature, is more likely to oppress others than to work for their benefit. We can cautiously endorse capitalism if we believe it will bring about a greater good for a greater number. While its fundamental orientation around one’s individual self-interest is fundamentally unchristian, we as Christians can support it when it is working in everyone’s best interest.