Political engagement has long been a treacherous passage for American Christians. The course between the twin rocks of hopeless withdrawal on one hand and undue expectations on the other is not always easy to navigate. In One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics, authors Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo seek to pilot a safe channel.
The book argues from the premise that it IS possible to “engage in politics responsibly, confidently, graciously, — even Christianly.” The authors set out to persuade the reader and to equip them to do so.
“Politics is not an evil arena to be avoided. Neither is it our only avenue for impacting
Society. The reality is much more complex and, oddly enough, much more promising.”
The first step in this effort is to establish the philosophical framework within which Christians can view our world generally and politics specifically. Flowing from a Kuyperian view of sphere sovereignty, the authors call for a “convictional and plural public square.” This is demands a combined “convictional Christianity with principled pluralism” which “allows Christians to retain their convictions without trampling on others.” (p. 50)
Convictional Christianity means that “our Christian beliefs should always inform our views, even though we may not always articulate our views publicly in an explicitly Christian manner.” Principled Pluralism calls for us to cooperate with others when we are able, but not be surprised when we cannot. It requires a delicate balance of faithfulness and flexibility.
The last seven chapters of the book address currently relevant issues (from just war to immigration) from a Christian standpoint. The authors present arguments based in biblical precepts and principles. They also include an example of someone who has engaged on that particular issue in a way that reflects the general principles noted in the first section of the book. Each chapter concludes with thought-provoking, practical questions to stimulate the reader’s thinking about their views.
The topics are addressed from an admittedly conservative Christian perspective but the authors are quick to emphasize that Christians “can and will disagree on these issues.” In fact, don’t read this book if you expect to agree with all the authors’ conclusions. Read it if you want to be challenged to examine your own conclusions in light of a Biblical perspective. It is not a book that provides answers to all the questions, but it will equip the reader to analyze them Biblically.
There are two particular principles that this book presents which I believe are much-needed in the church today:
1. The influence of Christianity on our public life – we must engage our world.
If religion shapes a person’s core beliefs and values and cultivates their dispositions and patterns of actions, then how could it not affect their political views and public interactions? (p. 25)
2. The nature of civility of speech and attitude in public discourse – we must engage our world in a Christ-like manner.
Civility’s black eye comes from the faulty assumption that those who are civil in their public disposition must necessarily be ‘soft.’ Politeness implies that we like everyone and agree with them. But nothing could be further from the truth. The essence of civility is not spinelessness but self-control; it is the capacity to show love and grace particularly when we disagree with others and even when we dislike them. (p. 58)
If you, or someone you know, are struggling with the role (if any) a Christian should play in the political process and how to go about doing so without sacrificing foundational principles, then I recommend this book. In light of the upcoming election, it is a timely contribution to the discussion.