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In Christ & Culture podcast with Dr. Ken Keathley, we explore how the Christian faith intersects all avenues of today’s culture through conversations with leading thinkers.
Today’s Episode: What is God’s creational design for politics, and how can Christians faithfully navigate this sphere of culture? On today’s episode, Dr. Bruce Ashford discusses his book One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics and how to be faithful and flexible in the public square without sacrificing our Christian morality.
Listen to the podcast above. Read a few exercepts below (edited for clarity).
The Bible draws a direct line from biblical teaching to moral issues, but the line from moral issues to public policy issues is notoriously complex.
Error #1: Politics with messianic dimensions.
“One of these extremes is to expect politics to take on messianic dimensions. Probably no Christian in America would say that or admit to that, but for the Christian who has allowed politics to take on messianic dimensions, this would be somebody who listens to hours and hours of political talk radio and hours of political talk TV at night; and then spends a lot of their time on opinion websites and news and politics websites; and just has a view in their mind [that] if there’s going to be revival in the United States of America, it’s going to be through the political avenue.
“And there’s sort of a forgetting of the many other spheres of culture where God wants us to work: art and science, scholarship and education, marriage and family, church, sports and competition. All of these spheres of culture are very important for the Christian witness, and it’s when we have a combined witness in all of those spheres that the Christian message goes out with its most power. So when we expect politics to take on enormous proportions, bigger proportions than God intended, it’s unhealthy for us and its ineffective.”
Error #2: Withdrawing from politics.
“The second extreme is to withdraw from the political arena. While that might be an option for some Christians who have a particular reason to, it’s not a good option for the Christian community. That’s what many of the Christians did in Germany during the rise of Hitler, and Karl Barth was writing that this was the fault of the greatest German theologian Martin Luther, who had constructed a theological framework that made people socially, culturally, and politically passive.”
“So it’s not okay to take a divinely created sphere of culture (which is politics) and just uniformly withdraw from it. We might be uniformly forced out, and if so then our political witness will be the gathering of the local church — even if it’s in house churches.”
What is God’s creational design for politics?
“God’s design is for a political arrangement to achieve justice for the various individuals and communities under its purview. That’s what God designed this realm to do — that, and nothing else. So it’s got a reason for being, but limits for what it ought to do.”
We want to be faithful to the Scriptures but flexible wherever we can be to hammer out legislation.
How can we be faithful and flexible?
“The Bible does not draw a direct line from biblical teaching to public policy in a 21st century Democratic Republic. It does not do that. It draws a direct line from biblical teaching to moral issues, but then the line from moral issues to public policy issues is notoriously complex — no matter what your favorite talk show host tells you. Your favorite talk show host puts everything in black and white, makes you angry and afraid about anyone who disagrees with him, and makes it very simplistic and clear cut that Jesus and the Bible are on his side, as he’s foaming at the mouth. It’s just not like that.
“To give an example, if you were to rank the worst sins in the Bible, and just translate that into the worst transgressions in the political realm… the worst sins in the Bible are pride and idolatry. So would you like to make those felonies which are worthy of capital punishment? You’d have to slay the whole country because all of us are proud and idolatrous.
“So public policy is very tricky, and we want to do our very best to reason from our biblical convictions and from the common sense God’s given us (natural law reasoning) and reason to wise public policy conclusions based on maybe listening to other wise people who’ve been in the game a long time.
“When it comes to being flexible, I think we also have to recognize that on some public policy issues, it’s not so clear cut. The Bible doesn’t give a particular solution. We may have strong opinions, but maybe we can give way a little bit. Politics is the process of hammering out working compromises. The Founding Fathers did that, and that’s why we have a Constitution. If they hadn’t been able to compromise, we wouldn’t have a Constitution.
“We live in an era where there’s supposed to be no compromise on any issue. That’s why legislators have no power, no spine, because the constituents just want them to yell and scream and not compromise on anything…. This forces the President to engage in executive action, and yet as soon as they engage in executive action, citizens are angry at them for doing so. So they should not be using executive action very often. Because of that, it gives a stronger hand to justices to be activists, and they shouldn’t be activists. So we have a very dysfunctional system right now.
“But to get back to individual Christians, we want to be faithful to the Scriptures, but flexible wherever we can be to hammer out legislation and to figure out ways of living together with people who have very different views than us.”
We can make firm and tough arguments and yet do so in a gracious and humble manner.
At time of crisis, why call for civility?
“Once you become angry and afraid, you think the only thing you can do is to lose your Christian witness and act like everybody else in the public square. What I want to argue is that we can combine truth and grace the way Jesus did. We can make firm and tough arguments and yet do so in a gracious and humble manner. Truth without grace makes us bullies and jerks in the political realm. Grace without truth makes us political wimps and non-entities. We want to avoid both.”
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