Is There a Christian Hope for American Politics? One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics by Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo purports to be what it sub-title suggests. Dr. Bruce Ashford is provost and professor of theology and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Chris Pappalardo is the lead researcher and writes and The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. They write with “…the hope of sharing 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.” In my opinion, they succeed.
The writers begin by explaining the overarching narrative of Scripture—creation, fall, redemption, and restoration—as a ground for understanding the role of politics in God’s plan. In this first part of the book, they continue to explain frameworks for Christian political action opting for the model of Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper as the best model. In the second part of the book, they explain how the model works with various political issues by providing examples of Christians that they believe have interacted well with these matters. These questions include Life and Death, Marriage and Sexuality, Economics and Wealth, The Environment and Ecological Stewardship, Racial Diversity and Race Relations, Immigrants and Immigration Reform, and War and Peace. They conclude with a chapter that presents Augustine as a model for speaking truth to power.
Despite being an academic book, I believe the book is accessible to most Christians who are familiar with these issues. That fact does not mean that the book is not challenging. The Kuyperian model does not fall neatly in line with the cultural warrior model that has served many Christians in their pursuit of political engagement. For that reason, some may think of it as a soft approach, but in reality, it is anything but soft. It requires careful thought and preparation for engagement with the culture in the political sphere. This method will frustrate many who want simple answers, quick change, and sound bite slogans, which also results in weakness. Those who perhaps need the truth of this book most will find it frustrating. It will take a patient pastor or Bible teacher to present these ideas in a coherent and biblical manner. And it will take time.
Each chapter includes a reading list that will prove very useful for someone who wants to go deeper in the understanding of the theology behind the method or the issues about which the authors write. Each chapter also includes discussion questions making it useful for personal reflection and small group discussion.
An essential aspect of the Kuyperian model is that inherent in creation are spheres of human endeavor. (Warning: a very over simplified explanation follows.) For example, church and government are different spheres, each created after its kind. In other words each has a God-given role that the other cannot impose upon; yet, each should operate under the lordship of Christ. The Christian’s role in politics is to work toward government action that reflects God’s glory, justice, and will. While agreeing that these spheres exist and have a biblical basis, I do not believe that one can just suggest they are inherent in creation and leave it at that. I would have liked more biblical basis of what the different spheres are, what their roles are, and how they fit in God’s order. It would have made for a longer book, but I believe it would have made the book more convincing to skeptical readers.
Evangelical political engagement has been a part of American history since America’s founding (No, it did not begin with the Moral Majority.) Evangelical Christians are adjusting to a new reality that suggests that they were never the majority (at least not in recent years) and that the actual majority sees their ideas as extreme. This book points toward engagement that can break down barriers and that is winsome. It is worthy of reading and worthy of consideration as we face a brave new world.
(Full disclosure: Broadman & Holman Academic provided me with a review copy of this book free of charge. I was under not obligation to write a positive review. Further, I am personally acquainted with both authors.)