Wayne Grudem on the Jason Bourne Films

Bourne_0Wayne Grudem evaluates the Jason Bourne films (his critique applies to The Bourne Legacy as well) when he discusses the CIA in Politics—According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 424–25:


The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is the primary organization that gathers and analyzes information about other countries, especially about potential enemies of the United States. In other words, the CIA coordinates America’s spy network abroad.

Is this a good thing? It seems to me that a necessary part of defending a nation is seeking to know about potential enemies and possible attacks before they happen, so that the nation can be defended against them. Because of this function, the CIA has no doubt prevented immense harm to the United States and to its interests both at home and elsewhere.

In the Bible, spies were not unknown. Joshua sent spies into the Promised Land before the conquest of Canaan (Josh. 2:1), David sent out spies to learn the whereabouts of King Saul (1 Sam. 26:4), and David later sent Hushai the Archite to serve as an undercover agent when Absalom was about to capture Jerusalem (2 Sam. 15:32–37; 16:15–19; 17:5–22).

Americans should, in general, be thankful for the CIA and the valuable intelligence it provides for our government. But instead of appreciation, the CIA constantly faces hostility and criticism from much of the American media and Hollywood. Because of unrelenting criticism over the years, much of which cannot be effectively answered without revealing national secrets, a sort of anti-CIA attitude has grown up in the United States. One example is the recent series of three movies called “The Bourne Trilogy,” starring Matt Damon as Jason Bourne. Although I have enjoyed several of Robert Ludlum’s novels (from which the lead character was taken), and although these movies were great fun to watch and very well made, their plots were completely different from Ludlum’s novels, and the main villain turns out to be not any evil terrorist but the CIA itself!

Such an anti-CIA mindset is both unfortunate for the country and highly inappropriate to the crucial work that is carried out by the agency. Although there are no doubt occasional breeches of good conduct and unwise decisions, for the most part the tens of thousands of people who work for the CIA do so at the cost of significant personal sacrifice and often in the face of great danger. Criticism of the CIA or its activities in general has a destructive effect on the nation because it undermines the morale of CIA employees who often perform extremely dangerous tasks at great personal sacrifice, largely out of devotion to protecting the nation. It also creates an atmosphere in which it is more difficult for the agency to recruit employees and carry on its work.

Opposition to the CIA as a general attitude of mind or a general policy position runs contrary to the very ability of the nation to defend itself; it is therefore opposition to the United States itself.

Of course, it is necessary that Congress have some oversight of the activities of the CIA and related intelligence agencies, all of which are part of the executive branch and ultimately report to the President. But too often congressional oversight has led to damaging leaks of information (from anti-CIA congressmen or their staff members), leaks that have been destructive to the CIA’s ability to protect national security and have actually hampered the CIA in fulfilling its tasks.

Christians who believe it is right, according to Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2, for nations to defend their citizens should be supportive of the CIA in general rather than being instinctively critical of activities about which they actually know very little.

Related: Three Books on Politics


  1. says

    Good article, but one criticism. I do think the comparison between the CIA and the spies of Joshua in the bible is a false comparison. I also think that the issue is not with the CIA in particular, but the Military-Industrial Complex in general, which is something Deuteronomy warns against and God actually burns with anger towards King David over in 2 Samuel 23-24. Although I am a pacifist, I can respect the Just War Theorist here, but I think it’s a little unrealistic to think that USA fits the Just War narrative. Our policies over the last 60 years have been more reflective of Total War, which is something not follower of God can accept.

  2. Joseph Hession says


    Thanks for passing this along. I appreciate Dr. Grudem’s reminder here, but at the same time I don’t think I fully agree with this. Let’s take Congress or the President as a whole as an example.

    On the one hand, we are thankful to God for government because we know it is a gift from God that restrains much evil. We can see throughout history (ours included) that even corrupt government is better than no government in terms of restraining evil.

    On the other hand, when our Congress or President does, encourages or advances evil, is it wrong to call our leaders to account? While I could be mistaken, I think Dr. Grudem would probably agree that this is right for us as citizens of our democratic form of Government.

    To take a practical matter at hand, should Christians encourage, be silent, or openly criticize the current excessive spending of our Government? Again, I’m not sure what Dr. Grudem would say, but I anticipate he advocates at least some level of civic engagement with this issue, including making the public aware of what our leaders are doing, engaging our Congressmen, etc…

    So now the question comes: wouldn’t this also apply to the CIA? I think it would! Now, there may be some thinking to be done in regards to finding that right balance of “calling to account” with the thankfulness and support that Dr. Grudem encourages here, but the evil perpetrated by the CIA is extremely extensive. And it is outright evil that grieves God greatly. Just reading “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA” from journalist Tim Weiner is a good primer as he sticks to well verifiable history in his critique. Although Weiner never says it, what comes through very clearly is that the CIA is obsessed with controlling nearly everything that happens in nearly every other country. In their history they have specialized in the raising up and tearing down of nations and leaders. They play God…all the time. I don’t discount real and present dangers exist, but the extent to which our nation has entangled ourselves (or outright caused) foreign affairs that we have no clear moral authority to, is something that grieves me greatly, and the CIA has been one of the main implementers of such policies.

    All that is to say that there must be some balanced criticism and making people aware of what we are really up to. I could be persuaded that Hollywood has not done a great job of finding the balance, but on the other hand, the sort of global CIA escapades of the movies are often very close to reality.

  3. Paul Matzko says

    I have several concerns with Grudem’s argument about the CIA.

    First, he reduces the function of the CIA to spying. That is only one of the functions of the CIA and, arguably since the fall of the USSR, the least important of their missions. This is not Cold War-era espionage, stealing documents and nuclear secrets. Instead, the CIA today is the primary agency that conducts drone attacks, coordinates special operations groups, funds foreign rebels and regimes, and engages in cyberwarfare. In other words, the CIA has become a paramilitary force. It has agents engaged in paramilitary operations in dozens of countries as I type. If you believe, as I do, that America’s current official and unofficial wars are at best mistakes and at worst travesties of justice, then the CIA bears the lion’s share of the blame for those conflicts. So Grudem’s summation of the mission of the CIA as “spying” is reductionist.

    Second, he elides the problem of torture. Of course, waterboarding is in the media right now because of the Bigelow movie Zero Dark Thirty. Also, the CIA engages in rendition, sending suspected terrorists to foreign countries where they have fewer bans on torture techniques. I think we Christians should be particularly sensitive to the use of torture given the narrative of persecution that we hold tightly to. Instead, American evangelicals, when polled, are among the most supportive groups of the use of torture to obtain information.

    Third, Grudem’s “of course, and yet” style response to Congressional oversight is disconcerting. It is only because of Congressional oversight that we have hard evidence of any of what I’ve written above. For example, it was Congressional hearings that forced President Bush to defend the use of waterboarding. Congressional oversight shone a spotlight on President Obama’s “kill list” that allows him to execute overseas American citizens without due process if suspected of terrorism. Yeah, that Congressional oversight can lead to leaks and embarassment…thank goodness! Grudem ends with, “citizens should be supportive of the CIA in general rather than being instinctively critical of activities about which they actually know very little.” And Grudem would have us know even less.

    While it is indeed possible to make a strong case for Christians to be loyal citizens of whatever City of Man they reside in, it is irresponsible to advocate reflexive nationalism when that nation is engaging in unjust wars and immoral acts.

    • Dave Alan Dacus says

      Paul Matzko,
      Well said. I agree with you on every point. I can appreciate Grudem’s effort insofar as it defends the institution of government as being secular but nevertheless honored by Christians as Paul instructs in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2. But the lengths to which our government and its agencies have currently gone in opposition to the basic liberties defended by the Constitution must be taken into account when an evaluation is being made. It’s very probable that many are “instinctively critical of activities about which they actually know very little”. But ironically Grudem himself seems to know very little of the extent to which the current, establishment U.S. gov’t and its agencies have gone astray from constitutional law. Like Martin Luther, Dietriche Bonhoeffer, William Wilberforce and Ron Paul, my desire would not be toward a disavowal of our government as a God-ordained institution, but rather toward a peaceable, constitutionally lawful opposition to the same when it err. I don’t regard the U.S. Constitution as authoritative as I regard the Bible, but I believe it’s impossible for Christians to honor a secular government and not to retain any type of Mosaic theocracy, in which the ruler rules by divine command, unless it’s seen and loved that in the New Covenant by being under grace and no longer under law the believer lives the rule and kingdom of God IN his/her person, so that the primacy of conscience (and of Scripture) trumps the primacy of the tradition and reasoning of man. And for the most part I believe the U.S. Constitution bears this out. And insofar as it or any other law reflects and guards the primacy or freedom of conscience I not only will choose but also am bound to choose to obey it. And any law that controverts said freedom I as a Christian am free and bound to disobey and dissent from it, at the cost of my life.

  4. Larry Huisenga says

    A vast majority of people have spent little time researching the wicked things our government has and is doing. Some people in these organizations are not even aware of it. It is beneficial to spend some time (not years) to research this. Too many Christians are trying to recreate a Norman Rockwell Amercia that never existed. It’s very depressing work but the value of it is that we will give up our efforts to fix the country and spend our efforts on the great commission.

    God has placed this government over us and I accept that. And I should spend more time than I do praying for them. But, Eph. 5:11 tells us to expose the unfruitful deeds of darkness. That is not our overriding purpose and extent to our mission but a by product.

    A place to start: http://www.corbettreport.com/episode-019-the-cia-ships-in-the-drugs/

  5. Frank Amariello says

    1. Nowhere did Grudem mention Pamela Landy. Anyone watching the films knows that she is the moral center of the CIA despite Treadstone and Blackbriar and indeed even the Director behind it all. “That’s not what I signed up for,” as she tells David at the end of 3.

    2. The history of the CIA is even far worse than Grudem or anyone on this board has mentioned. That is not to say that it is at heart an evil institution, anymore than Pax Romana’s certainty was “evil” roman centurions.

    3. The moral quandry is best discussed in Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying, by James Olson. Must read. Not kidding. It’s the best book out there.

  6. says

    I continue to be awed at the wide-eyed naivete of otherwise smart, straight thinkers like Grudem. The Bourne movies show only a partial, padded look at the reality inside the alphabet agencies in this nation. The CIA has published its own annals, and so it takes no conspiracy theorist to uncover the ultra-brutal, unconstitutional, and arguably demonic heart of the work it does. Simple examples would be Guatemala 1954. Or Iran 1952-4. Or Bay of Pigs. There are 1,000 of them. If another nation did to us what we have done to so many others through our para-military CIA, we would have shot nukes.

    It is truly breathtaking the scope of destruction and fascism the CIA has wrought upon the earth, and equally breathtaking how ridiculously ignorant of these things our evangelical leaders tend to be. Lord, have mercy.

  7. says

    I agree with all of the commenters above. Particularly the “wide-eyed naivete” comment.

    In keeping with Wesley’s “vilest race of liars under the sun” is another Matt Damon CIA film “Good Shepherd” that does a great job of showing the cost to an agent’s soul.

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