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On Sunday, September 11, 2016, we tackled the weighty issue of religion and politics. In the morning service, I preached from 1 Peter 2:13-17, in order to help us think biblically about how Christians should relate to governing authorities and how to think about the upcoming presidential elections. If you would like to listen to that message, you can find it here: Thinking Biblically About Government and Politics (1 Peter 2:13-17).

On Sunday evening, we had the privilege of hosting a forum on God and Politics. You can find it here: High Pointe Forum on Christianity & Politics. Pastor Ben Wright’s 35 points were so helpful that I asked his permission to provide them to you in full. Here they are below. Please carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully work through each one.

9/11/16 God & Politics Forum | 35 principles Christians can agree on

Why do we need to talk about this?

  1. We have to because Jesus Christ reigns over all. As his ambassadors, our job is to live as his representatives and declare his message.

What’s government for?

  1. Government’s mission to punish evil and reward good (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17).

Should we be favorably inclined toward government?

  1. Almost any government is better than no government.
  1. Because we are a representative or constitutional democracy, the responsibilities delegated to government in Scripture fall ultimately to American citizens.
  1. We owe government prayer, taxes, respect, and honor.
  1. You are not in sin if you oppose elected officials or their policies. You are in sin if you do not honor them and pray for them.
  1. Christians should be engaged in politics and government.
  1. Opportunities abound at local levels to engage influentially.
  1. It is right to be grateful for how our government has fought evil and promoted good.
  1. It is easy for white middle class people to believe our government did a great job fighting evil and promoting good throughout our history.
  1. Whatever era of American history you look back to as the ideal certainly wasn’t ideal for everyone. In every era, people have suffered under injustice that was tolerated, if not propagated, by our government and our culture.
  1. It is possible to be both compassionate & treat people with the dignity of divine image-bearers, and at the same time to favor enforcing the law & supporting law enforcement.
  1. Government is neither the fundamental problem nor the fundamental solution.
  1. Politicians often identify real problems but propose terrible solutions.
  1. We should be grateful but realistic, knowing government officials are fallen humans, just as we are.

 How might we be thinking poorly about Christianity & politics?

  1. Our membership in a church and our citizenship in Jesus’ Kingdom are more fundamental to our identity than our American citizenship (When we forget this, we are thinking poorly about Christianity & politics).
  1. It is possible, if not common, for Christians to prioritize political convictions over the Church’s mission.
  1. What happens in elections has zero impact on Jesus’ promise to build his Church and the Holy Spirit’s work to make that happen.
  1. Our political opponents are our neighbors, not our enemies. They are people we are sent on a mission to reach, not to war against.
  1. Religious freedom is good and desirable.
  1. God doesn’t need religious freedom in America to accomplish his plan.
  1. It is possible to possess righteous anger over government’s failure to fulfill its God-given mission.
  1. Other people may perceive real failures of government that are invisible to us, and we should learn from them.
  1. Unrighteous anger reveals how shallow is our trust in God.
  1. It is dangerous, if not common, to treasure American laws and freedom more than souls being set free from the penalty of sin and power of the devil.
  1. It is possible, if not likely, to cast a morally justifiable vote while possessing immoral motivations.
  1. People who argue there’s only one choice for Christians to make in this election year are placing a constraint on the Christian conscience that Scripture does not permit.
  1. Disagreements among Christians over how to vote often emerge less from disagreements over principles, and more from disagreements over how we weigh our principles.
  1. We need to figure out what principles we really stand on. Until then, we should guard our pronouncements.

 Conclusions

  1. It is possible, if not likely, that in this election Satan is executing a strategy designed to divide the Church & distract it from its mission.
  1. From an eternal perspective, we should be far more concerned about the disunity of the Church and distraction from our mission than the disintegration of historic American political principles.
  1. Christians need to be people who are committed to work through these issues without allowing them to divide us.
  1. The normal standing of Christians is on the margins of society. We should expect opposition and suffering.
  1. Anger, fear, and despair over the loss of a privileged standing are not marks of people who understand what it means to follow Christ. They may be marks of people who treasure American citizenship more than citizenship in the kingdom of God.
  1. If this election season drives American Christians to dislodge our hope in political parties and presidential candidates and to fix our hope on the gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, then this election season will be God’s grace to his Church.
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There is much discussion right now about what evangelicals should do this presidential election.  Some beloved brothers and sisters argue that the two party political system has provided two “evil” or at least undesirable choices.  Therefore, they ask, why should one have to vote for the lesser of two evils.  This is a principled stance.

Other beloved brothers and sisters argue that not to vote is to vote for the greater of two evils, or at the very least not to stand up for, for example, the rights of the unborn.

In light of the fact that we evangelical are sometimes gullible and may be tempted to listen to fringe voices, I thought I would simply list a few links from more thoughtful persons representing the various positions.

Thabiti Anyabwile – Martin Luther King, Jr. Would Stand for Ideals Rather than Settle for Evil in This Election

Albert Mohler, others – panel: The Mormon Moment? Religious Convictions and the 2012 Election

John Piper – I Am Going to Vote

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In a culture where evangelicals are at odds as to how to relate to culture, James Davidson Hunter’s To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, has set off a perfect storm, and I highly recommend you pick up a copy and read for yourself.

See Christianity Today’s Interview with Hunter.

See Chuck Colson’s Response.

See Andy Crouch’s Response.

See Hunter’s Counter-Response to Both.

Hunter’s work comes to us in three essays.  You may see abstracts of each chapter on Hunter’s website.  In Essay I, Hunter argues that the way Christians have gone about engaging culture is all wrong.  Wrong approaches include both the idealism of Christians who believe that if we simply change the hearts and minds of people (through evangelism, politics, social reform), then we will re-Christianize culture (a la Chuck Colson) AND the cultural materialism of Christians who believe that if we simply produce enough “new cultural goods, concrete, tangible artifacts, whether books or tools or buildings” (28), then we will change culture (a la Andy Crouch).  Instead, Hunter argues that cultural change is more complex than either just changing ideas 0r producing new artifacts.  Culture includes both ideas and artifacts, to be sure, but what both approaches fail to account for is the institutional nature of culture.  Hunter argues that “cultural change at its most profound level occurs through dense networks of elites operating in common purpose within institutions at the high-prestige centers of cultural production” (274).  Of course, this is an oversimplification of his argument in Essay I; however, it provides the big idea that underlies his argument: culture change does not occur at the grass roots as Christians have thought; it happens from the top down.

In Essay II, Hunter argues that “world-changing implies power and the implicit theories of power that have long guided their exercise of power are also deeply problematic” (274), for “the working theory of power (whether from religious right or left) is still influenced by Constantinian tendencies toward conquest and domination” (274).  All one has to do is see how both the religious right and left have approached contemporary politics t0 see how both seek power to impose their particular brand of evangelicalism on culture.

Finally, in Essay III, Hunter argues against the paradigms of cultural engagement of the Christian right (“defensive against” – i.e., cultural secularism), the Christian left (“relevance to” – i.e., contemporary culture) and the Neo-Anabaptists (“purity from” – i.e., the world), and instead proposes what he calls the idea of “faithful presence within” this world in which we are exiles and sojourners.  In other words, Hunter argues that our calling is not to change the world, but to be faithfully present in this world in every sphere of life, as the incarnate people of God who point to the God who became faithfully present into this world through Jesus Christ, who forever remains faithfully present with His people.

It is essential, in my view, to abandon altogether talk of “redeeming the culture,” “advancing the kingdom,” “building the kingdom,” “transforming the world,” “reclaiming the culture,” and “changing the world.”  Christians need to leave such language behind them because it carries too much weight.  It implies conquest, take-over, or dominion, which in my view is precisely what God does not call us to pursue — at least not in any conventional, twentieth- or twenty-first century way of understanding these terms (280).

We are not to change culture, for this world is not our home; we are to be faithfully present in this world as Israel was faithfully present in Babylon: as exiles who were seeking the welfare of that culture.  For, like Israel who was looking to be restored to the land, the earthly Jerusalem, we are exiles in this foreign land looking for the new heavens and earth where righteousness dwells.  Until then, we are to live out the Shalom of God in every sphere of life, pointing to the promise of future Shalom at the consummation of the kingdom.

I think Hunter helps us greatly in advancing the discussion concerning culture in that he exposes and critiques historically faulty approaches, yet he does not merely leave us with a critique.  Hunter provides a helpful proposal that hopefully will propel the conversation forward in the right directions.

Be sure to check out Justin Taylor’s site for helpful chapter summaries on To Change the World.

Finally, here is Greg Gilbert on To Change the World.

Categories : Church, Commentary, Politics
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Jeanine and I were walking through a parking lot this week, and I pointed out an SUV that had several anti-Obama bumper stickers.  These were bumper stickers that clearly communicated animosity toward the President’s policies but beyond that also communicated a particular distaste for the President himself.  What was most shocking, however, was the purposely-placed, large-sized window decal which proudly displayed the name of the church where the owners of the vehicle obviously attended.

It is no surprise to me that in such a politically heated environment some people would have strong opinions about our government and its policies; however, when self-professing Christians get caught up in the hateful political language and act just like everyone else who is spewing vitriol what does that communicate about the gospel and about where our hopes lie?  It seems to me that too many evangelical Christians seem to think that the solution to our problems rests in getting the “wrong” people out of office and replacing them with the “right” people.

Well, this Wednesday I was reading through Justin Martyr’s First Apology, and I came across this most helpful quote in relation to the early Christians’ position toward a dictatorial, tyrannical government.  In fact, Justin addressed his apology to “the Emperor Titus Aelius Adrianus Antoninus Pius Augustus Caesar, and to his son Verissimus the Philosopher, and to Lucius the Philosopher, the natural son of Caesar, and the adopted son of Pius, a lover of learning, and to the sacred Senate, with the whole People of the Romans.”

Justin was concerned that Christians were being persecuted simply because they bore the name Christian.  He appeals to the governing authorities to judge Christians rightly based on their character and conduct, not the labels that have been given to them.  In relation to whether or not Christians were a threat to Roman peace, Justin declares:

And when you hear that we look for a kingdom, you suppose, without making any inquiry, that we speak of a human kingdom; whereas we speak of that which is with God, as appears also from the confession of their faith made by those who are charged with being Christians, though they know that death is the punishment awarded to him who so confesses. For if we looked for a human kingdom, we should also deny our Christ, that we might not be slain; and we should strive to escape detection, that we might obtain what we expect. But since our thoughts are not fixed on the present, we are not concerned when men cut us off; since also death is a debt which must at all events be paid (First Apology, Chapter XI).

And more than all other men are we your helpers and allies in promoting peace, seeing that we hold this view, . . . (First Apology, Chapter XII).

We’ve come a long way since the second century.  Do we Christians act as if our hopes rest on this kingdom and its governments and its elected officials?

Precisely because our kingdom is not of this world, the Bible calls us sojourners and exiles (Hebrews 11:13; 1 Peter 1:1; 2:11).  Precisely because our kingdom is not of this world, the Bible calls us ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).  Our hope does not rest in this world, its governments or its elected officials; our hope rests in Christ alone, and His kingdom is not of this world.

Let us be good earthly citizens, fulfilling our responsibilities in God-glorifying ways to be sure, but let us remember that our true citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20; Ephesians 2:19).  When we remember this truth, then we will seek the things that are above where Christ is (Colossians 3:1-4), and we will be peacemakers here on earth (James 3:17-18) as our Lord’s ambassadors who bring a message of reconciliation.

Categories : Commentary, Politics
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