"Is it possible to be passionate about the gospel and care deeply about politics? Can we engage in politics responsibly, confidently, graciously--even Christianly?" I believe so, and I believe we must. Over the course of my 21-year Christian life, this conviction has grown stronger. So, knowing that some Christian leaders downplay or downright denounce Christian political involvement, I am glad Bruce and Chris have written this book, offering "A Christian Hope for American Politics". I offer this brief review in the hope that I can prompt a few other people to read their book and think seriously about how the Gospel and the lordship of Jesus are to apply to politics.
Bruce and Chris are rightly concerned about two extremes Christians can fall into with politics: "Some Christians think of politics as an insufferable necessity; others conceive of politics as nigh unto salvation. Ironically, these two perspectives tend to feed off each other. Those who imbue politics with unrealistic and salvific expectations are most liable to conclude--even if it takes years to get there--that politics is not worth it after all and must be abandoned at all costs. 'Politics as salvation' leads to political frustration, which leads to political withdrawal. For many well-intentioned believers, what begins as an arena of endless hope often ends as an arena of darkness and despair."
Bruce and Chris wonder what the right balance is: "If we are not to withdraw from politics, is it possible to avoid the opposite error of making politics our sole tool for societal change? How can we navigate between the dual extremes of political withdrawal and political salvation?"
Here, then, is their stated aim of the book: "We hope to share a perspective on politics that tempers the expectations of those with inflated hopes, empowers those with deflated hopes, and equips every Christian to apply Christ's love in the muddied arena of politics." I believe their little book hits that target.
I have always been impressed with the need to keep a top-down perspective on things going on in our living rooms and the world at large. In other words, from our niches, to our neighborhoods, to our nation, and to all nations, we need to seek God's sovereign, transcendent perspective on everything. In prayer and studying His Word, we need to get up over it all with Him and try to see it all as He sees it, starting with the big picture. Bruce and Chris take that approach to politics, starting with the very first chapter, leading us to understand what God wants us to do with politics within His creation, in the aftermath of the Fall, in light of redemption, while looking forward to restoration.
Bruce and Chris offer an introductory overview of the book: "In the first chapter we show that the Bible's 'big story' provides the context within which Christians should think about politics and public life. Only by considering the four plot movements of Scripture--creation, fall, redemption, and restoration--can we begin to understand the role of politics today. In chapter 2 we identify four competing answers to the question of Christianity and politics, digging a bit deeper to show that each answer actually rests on a unique understanding of grace. In the third chapter we show how Christianity is able to affect every sphere of life without creating a theocracy. Chapter 4 picks up the question of church and state specifically, asking--and answering--how our view of cultural engagement will affect our view of church-government relations.
"In the fifth chapter we talk about the specific challenges of our cultural context. Contemporary Americans live in a country that is decreasingly Christian. While many Christians feel this as a threat, we argue that it is time for us to learn afresh how to witness to our society as a minority group, to minister from the margins. We must once again become comfortable as resident aliens in our own nation while still pursuing the welfare of our society. In the sixth chapter we provide practical advice on how to leverage public-square interactions as witness for Christ. Our political interaction is an avenue for proclaiming aspects of the gospel, for showing the world a different hope, and for displaying Christian character and discernment.
"The next seven chapters address current topics in American politics--abortion, euthanasia, immigration, same-sex marriage, the economy, the environment, race relations, immigration [repeat in original], and just war. In these chapters we show how our view of Christianity and politics (addressed in chapters 1-6) applies in real life. Each chapter focuses on a Christian who has proven to be an exemplary public witness on the topic at hand.
"In the final chapter we conclude by highlighting one last exemplary Christian, a hero from the past--Augustine of Hippo. Augustine lived during the decline of the Roman Empire and stood as a champion for Christianity when society had begun to decry the faith. We will summarize his famous book, City of God, which was written to address Rome's political ills, and apply its lessons to our own--surprisingly similar--American context."
I want to stress something about Bruce's and Chris' approach, which I appreciate and applaud. They show that they understand how we must live out our dual citizenship, primarily in God's kingdom and subordinately in this earthly kingdom, seeking first His kingdom and righteousness under the lordship of Jesus in every sphere of life, including politics. If we withdraw from politics, we are, in effect, removing God's righteousness as an initiative, leaving only unrighteousness as the initiative of the unrighteous, to the dishonoring of God and the detriment of our neighbor. How can we justify that? God bless Bruce and Chris for realizing and writing that we can't.
I see One Nation Under God as a manual for Christian political involvement. This book needs to be a text book for a class on Christian political involvement, and I do not say that lightly. As a pastor, I do not tend to jump on the bandwagon of teaching a class on every new good book that comes along, but I am praying about teaching a class on this book--using it to complement lessons from Scripture on this issue. One can do that because Bruce and Chris take their cues from Scripture in what they say on this issue. And they are pithy and poignant. Not only did I find their material edifying, but also enjoyable.
Here are some observations on the layout of the book. The core of the book spans only 142 pages. Even one that is not an avid reader should not feel strained in reading this book. There are discussion questions and reading recommendations at the end of all the chapters on social issues. They provided good endnotes in the back of the book (incidentally, I prefer footnotes at the end of a chapter). Also in the back of the book are a name and subject index, as well as a Scripture index--very helpful for targeted reference in further study and discussion.
I recommend that you get this little book and study it. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section, whether for more details or more input. Below are links to where you can purchase a copy.
Let us aspire to understand the times and know what we
(1 Chronicles 12:32)