Politics consumes a lot of space in our lives. But that is never more true than during an election season. Even though the year has just begun, we can already tell that 2020 is shaping up to be another chaotic election year. And for Christians, there is much to think about. For believers, politics is about much more than one’s vote for president or the party or candidates we might choose to support. Instead, the way we engage the political process is about our public witness. In thinking about politics, we should be thinking about the way we represent Jesus to the world.
If I could make only one recommendation for Christians as we enter this election year, I would encourage you to prepare for it by spending some time learning from those who’ve also thought deeply about a Christian approach to politics. Below I’ve included four books that you should consider reading this year, along with a brief description of each one. Each book covers slightly different ground, and each author speaks with real credibility about the subjects he addresses. These books have been beneficial in my own life as I’ve learned to consider political engagement as an extension of my faith instead of something separate or only slightly related. I’m confident they will do the same for you.
Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel by Russell Moore
I recommend this book first because of its hopeful outlook. Onward is a book that reflects the gospel-shaped mentality that should guide every Christian as he or she thinks about politics. Christians have exercised a profound influence over American politics since the founding of our nation. But whether our influence is to rise or wane in the future, Christians should always be mindful (and motivated) by the fact that our true allegiance is to a King and a Kingdom that is not of this world, and that the Kingdom of Christ is the only kingdom that will triumph at the end of history. Rightly applying the gospel to our politics should be the aim of every Christian citizen, and I know of no better place apart from the scriptures to begin.
One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics by Bruce Ashford & Chris Pappalardo
One Nation Under God is a brief, excellent primer for Christians on the subject of political engagement. The book offers a new vision for the politically disillusioned and a helpful corrective to those expecting political achievement to usher in the Kingdom of God. Ashford and Pappalardo take the time to introduce the reader to the basic categories of political thought as they have developed throughout church history. In the first half of the book, they present a helpful, gospel-based framework for thinking biblically about politics. And in the second half, they apply that framework to contemporary political issues such as human dignity, marriage and family, human sexuality, immigration, war, and economics. The book is helpful, approachable, and includes both principles and application in a way that will help you think more carefully about applying your beliefs to political issues.
If I could make only one recommendation for Christians as we enter this election year, I would encourage you to prepare for it by spending some time learning from those who’ve also thought deeply about a Christian approach to politics.
How The Nations Rage: Rethinking Politics in a Divided Age by Jonathan Leeman
The public square is nothing less than a battleground of gods. Christians often struggle to make sense of the ways that it is appropriate to bring their faith to bear on politics and government. How do we “vote our values” while defending religious liberty? What about the separation of church and state? No one I know thinks more carefully about politics and the church than Jonathan Leeman. And so it is no surprise that the real strength of this book is Leeman’s ability to help readers see the local church as central to our politics. As he explains, local churches are literally outposts of the Kingdom of God on the earth. Leeman helps us see what the local church teaches us about politics by observing the rhythms of our lives and worship as ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. Learning to think about earthly politics in light of Jesus’ Kingship is essential for Christians, and How The Nations Rage lays just such a foundation.
This book differs substantially from those already mentioned. Instead of a guide for navigating contemporary politics, The Contested Public Square traces the history of Christian political engagement. Within its pages, Forster offers few prescriptions. But he does offer a compelling narration of significant developments in Christian political thought and its application and effects in the real world. In the book, he captures the sweeping history of Christianity’s rise from obscure sect within first-century Judaism to a modern, global religion and considers the faith’s powerful influence upon the development of Western history. Each of the book’s eight chapters give attention to a distinct period in history as Forster draws out the political ideals that emerged from Christianity’s repeated confrontation of the most consequential and hotly contested political questions of the day. Any Christian seeking to meaningfully engage politics today should be aware of this history. And Forster’s work is a great place to start.