Responsible citizenship is a steadily mounting challenge for Americans. Rampant isolation leaves us disconnected from our neighbors. Social crises leave us feeling powerless and perplexed. Digital screens and social media increasingly mediate these realities, often compounding our confusion.
Few citizens have a coherent vision for civic engagement, especially engagement in such an alienating and disorienting cultural moment. Amidst unrest and uncertainty, David C. Innes calls Christians to examine the first principles and foundations of civic and political responsibilities with his book Christ and the Kingdoms of Men: Foundations of Political Life. Innes is a professor of politics at King’s College and has written extensively on the intersection of political philosophy and theology. He is also a teaching elder at Trinity Church in Long Island. Innes’ positions as professor and elder have fostered an obvious skill for guiding laypeople and leaders toward thoughtful engagement with matters of politics in an accessible way.
Christ and the Kingdoms of Men is an introduction to “fundamental questions and challenges of political life.” Innes intends to speak directly to citizenship and political activity from a Christian perspective, drawing resources from theology, philosophy, and political theory. In doing so, he hopes to offer a grounded, coherent, and intentional understanding of politics that an average citizen can practically apply.
Political questions and activities often touch on essential questions about human life. Innes sets out to help readers connect practical civic questions to the foundational ideas that undergird them and equip them to reflect and critically respond thoughtfully.
Innes draws from the kingdom narrative of Scripture to ground his ideas of social and political life. The themes of creation, fall, and redemption reveal an intelligently ordered world where humans made in God’s image are called to cultivate society. Sin and evil are pervasive and must be restrained. The hope of restoration lies in Jesus’ redemptive work and ultimate return. Within these foundational realities lie resources for discernment, analysis, and application regarding questions of justice, morality, social relations, legitimate authority, and other essential political matters.
Innes contends that government provides a public good and, within its exercise of legitimate authority, essentially merits obedience. He examines the purpose of government from Romans 13:1-7, outlining what it means for governments to “punish evil and promote good.” Additionally, Innes deals with various “problems” of political life and governance. For example, he examines the tensions between the social need for governance and the reality that sinful people govern. Then, he explores how various modern traditions have sought to square these tensions. The book closes with practical application for citizens and civic leaders and an appeal to pursue the common good through politics.
Christ and the Kingdoms of Men presents a clear and convictional offering for how to think about political activity and governance. Innes models how to think critically about these issues by fleshing out his theological and philosophical rationales for the reader. This feature alone makes the book worth reading, as it challenges reactive and ad hoc means of thinking about politics that are often modeled in the public square and absorbed by Christians. By calling readers back to first principle questions of, for instance, cosmology and anthropology, Innes encourages deep reflection and intentionality in considering complex issues of politics and governance. Instead of offering simple answers and position statements, Innes provides tools to analyze and dissect practical civics matters.
Principles in the public square
Innes also helpfully recognizes the universal and contextual challenges of governance. Rather than offering idealistic principles, Innes engages by applying those principles amidst the complexities of political engagement. For instance, Innes acknowledges that any government in a Western context will have to navigate the barriers that individualism erects to constructive citizenship. He then demonstrates the resources biblical themes like the imago Dei offer to those seeking political solutions in an atomized society. By raising these challenges and showing how to think theologically about solutions, Innes exposes readers to realistic wrestling with tensions and complexities in political engagement.
In painting a thoughtful and dynamic picture of politics, Innes likewise calls for a more holistic engagement with the political sphere. For example, in his section on faithful citizenship and statesmanship, Innes contends that citizenship goes beyond voting. Concern for the common good will lead citizens to regular civic engagement, not just on voting day. Here, Innes challenges the temptation to fix political energy exclusively on elections to neglect further engagement like organizing or governmental participation.
At moments in the book, Innes’ explanations or prescriptions can oversimplify some issues. For example, Innes speaks of spheres like government or the market as essentially distinct without going in-depth on the manifold ways these spheres function. This presentation is liable to reduce the interdependent and complex nature of such spheres within, for example, a globalized economic system that transcends borders yet is deeply interwoven with states. In an introductory book, this is a reasonable limitation. However, Innes also articulates distinct and potentially wooden boundaries around what the governmental functions of praising good and punishing evil can mean. These hard limitations potentially obscure the actual scope of various spheres. They also limit the potential application of how Christians could apply Innes’ broad and valuable principles in genuinely prudential circumstances that might fall outside his stated boundaries.
Innes’ work is appropriate for use in both academic spaces and by local church leaders and laypeople. Innes recommends further reading at the end of each chapter, which is helpful for those looking to pair the book alongside other political theology books and books from related disciplines. For one, Innes’ prescriptions on various prudential matters of society and politics are worth comparing to different traditions and perspectives. Likewise, works from other related disciplines like political science or economics would complement Innes primarily theological reflections. Furthermore, as an introductory level book that covers a wide ground, Christ and the Kingdoms of Men is necessarily cursory on several of the dense topics it covers. The recommended resources, along with reflection questions and keywords, give the book a useful format for teaching.
Christ and the Kingdoms of Men displays that Scripture holds immense resources for understanding our role in civic life. Furthermore, David C. Innes presents how Christians can unearth insight and analysis from those biblical resources. As the church navigates an often confounding and chaotic public square, Christians must be equipped to apply essential principles to various political and civic issues. Whether readers agree or disagree with Innes’ perspectives on the many issues he examines, they will find the topics he tackles worth deep reflection and consideration. Furthermore, readers will find a demonstration of thoughtful and intentional biblical analysis on politics and governance, a valuable resource in our present moment.