Are Voters Ready to Ask the Question?

Ask The Question by Stephen Mansfield challenges voters and the media to take the religion of presidential candidates seriously. He encourages citizens to dare ask how the religious beliefs of candidates shape them as individuals and how those spiritual ideas shape their policy position. Mansfield is the author of other books dealing with politics and presidents: The Faith of George W. Bush and The Faith of Barack Obama. In this book, Mansfield deals with the faith of past presidents, past candidates, and a potential president. He gives examples of how faith shapes each person.

Mansfield deals with a variety of religious positions ranging from conservative evangelical to progressive mainstream. Mansfield treats each one with respect and objectivity. He assumes religious sincerity on the part of each candidate. Thus, he models the point that he is trying to make. Reporters and voters tend to believe statements of faith by candidates are political posturing. Such assumptions particularly happen when the candidate holds views that the reporter or voter finds distasteful. Some conservatives carry the assumption that all liberals are godless and discount the sincerity of their faith. Some liberals still assume that evangelicals are uneducated and easily manipulated leading them to believe that conservative candidates use religious rhetoric for purely political purposes.

Another key point that Mansfield is our postmodern era makes the question of religion more important rather than less important. He points to Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln as past examples of “nones.” Mansfield both would have been considered as such because they were not members of an organized religious group. Both had strong religious and spiritual understandings. Postmodernism makes labels meaningless today. One must not just know a candidate is Baptist or Roman Catholic. One must understand the full spiritual foundation of the candidate and how it influences their policy decisions.

This book is an important one to read. Hopefully, more voters and reporters will take the book’s advice and ask the question.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy from Baker Books for review purposes. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)

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Is There a Christian Hope for American Politics? A Book Review

One Nation Under God

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.

Structure

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.

Strengths

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.

Weakness

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.

Analysis

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.)