This is part one of three in a book review series on faith and politics. As the political war ensues, making its crescendo in November, it is crucial for Christians to ground themselves in humility. This book review series will seek to highlight resources to help us think through ways we can interact with the God-ordained institutions of church and government in such a hostile political environment. Our first highlighted book entitled How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Politics in A Divided Age, Johnathan Leeman, who has a doctorate in political theology and serves as a pastor in the D.C. area, has written a helpful book that allows us to take a step back and rethink what it means to be a Christian in the public square.
Leeman begins his work by bringing to our attention that the public square is more or less a “battleground of gods”. To illustrate this, Leeman has the reader imagine an airport security system at the entrance of the public square. The security system will pick up all the supernatural big G-God hiding in people but it will fail to pick up the hard-to-see socially constructed little g-gods of the secularist, the materialist, and the consumerist (to name a few). Thus, the supernatural big G-God of the Christian, Muslim or Jew will sound off, but not for the socially constructed religions of our day that can slip right through (pg. 35). This is a helpful reminder that, as Leeman concludes, “the public square is inevitably slanted toward the secularist and materialist. Public conversation is ideologically rigged (pg. 30).”
Are we to throw up our hands since we know this is the case? Are Christians to be passive in the public square? Not so! Leeman argues that Christians, by our very definition, are political people. Politics, as Leeman would define, is the ordering of our lives in society. It is the rules that govern us. It is the outworking of what we believe is just and right. The church then is where politics should be first seen since we are under the rule and reign of Christ. Leeman argues: “Whether you’re a member of this party or that party, the local church is where we learn to love our enemies, forsake our tribalism, and beat our swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks. Here is where we tutor one another in the righteousness and justice of God. Here is where the righteousness and justice of God become tangible, credible, and believable for the onlooking nations (pg. 131).”
Many people, even Christians, confuse the difference between the separation of church and state and the separation of faith and politics. The two are not synonymous as people are led to believe. Separation of church (as an organized institution) and state would answer situations like “don’t make me pay taxes for your Anglican Church, and I’ll respect your freedom to baptize your infants.” For faith and politics, one cannot order their lives without imposing a certain worldview, no matter how big or small one’s God (or god) is.
If this is the case, how can a Christian interact in the public square? Leeman helpfully brings the reader back to the basics of why God ordained certain institutions in the first place. The book deals with the purpose and authority God gives institutions like government and the church. The church wields certain authority while the government wields another. In this partisan and divided age, it can be easy to blur these lines.
Leeman makes many contributions to the topic on faith and politics in the book, but a specific topic that came through, that we would all do well to wrestle more with, is the topic of wisdom. Leeman asserts that the Bible speaks very clearly on certain issues, like abortion for example. Good Christians should all agree, from the Scriptures, that killing an unborn baby is wrong and unjust. Other issues, like tax policy, is not so clearly outlined in the Bible. Good Christians can read the Bible and can come to different positions on tax policy that they think would be the best course of action. This calls for wisdom. Politics will most likely deal a lot more with less straightforward issues that we see from the Scripture than straightforward ones. That is why Leeman calls for Christians to pray for wisdom. We need God’s help in these areas. As a result, we should be patient and charitable in areas where we might disagree with people on issues not so clear.
This book helps the Christian who may be politically hesitant to recognize that all peoples and nations are under the reign of Christ and will eventually be judged by Him; thus, the Christian should be eager to humbly order their lives in such a way that gives a thoughtful answer for the hope that lives within them. And for the Christian who may be too invested or dependent on a certain political party or person, this book brings a gentle reminder that Christ’s Church is to be a city on a hill, not a servant to any god but the Living God whose kingdom is forever.
Editors Note: You can purchase the book here.