Book Review

How should Christians navigate politics?

Lessons from Jonathan Leeman’s "How the Nations Rage"

Jun 14, 2019

Politics has become increasingly contentious as both parties move farther away from each other. Christians are left uncertain in this atmosphere: Which party should I most associate with? How should I speak with others about politics? How do I make sense of this? How the Nations Rage offers a path for Christians to navigate this polarizing climate. Author, Jonathan Leeman, seeks to equip the Church to engage the public square through a biblical, rather than political, lens. As politics continues to divide the culture and the Church, How the Nations Rage offers a way for Christians to stand in the gap and serve as a bridge to unity.

“The story of politics,” Leeman states, “is the story of how you and I arrange our days, arrange our relationships, and arrange our neighborhoods and nations to get what we most want—to get what we worship” (p. 25). The book provides a full view of the battle between “gods” that takes place in the public square. And in it, Leeman lays out practical goals, steps, and principles Christians should follow in the realm of politics in a very clear and concise way. Furthermore, he does an incredible job of rooting all eight chapters in the Word of God and applying them to the life of the church.

Biblical justice

From cover to cover Leeman shows how the fuller view of biblical justice will always be seen through the church fulfilling the commands of God, rather than solely on legislation passed in the public square. In the chapter on justice, Leeman explains, “Pick any point of division you want (abortion, immigration, race politics, or others), and behind that division you’ll find at least two sides with different versions of what justice requires” (p. 203). One form of justice is called, respecting rights, which leads to “identity politics.” The other view of justice focuses on God’s justice, which emphasizes God’s moral standards applied to our conduct with humanity. Leeman concludes by explaining, “We might be popular or unpopular. But our political task is the same: love your neighbor, share the gospel, do justice” (p. 234).

An embassy of ambassadors

Anyone familiar with the Nine Marks “Building Healthy Churches” series will already be familiar with the analogy of the church as an embassy. In chapter 6, Leeman explains that as an embassy of God’s kingdom, the church is inherently political. We represent one nation residing in another nation and heaven’s rule as it will be revealed in the end times. Therefore, the Church must be multiethnic and multinational, and should maintain a bipartisan prophetic voice. This analogy clearly highlights how churches represent the kingdom of God within the existing nations of the world. Furthermore, Leeman uses the illustration of Christians as ambassadors, which is life-giving and empowering, as it encourages believers to engage in the public square primarily as kingdom citizens, not republicans, democrats, or even Americans.

Everyday politics

By rooting the Christian’s political engagement in the Church, Leeman is able to bring political involvement back to the grassroots level. In chapter 6 Leeman shares, “Real politics begins not with your political opinions but with your everyday decisions, not with public advocacy, but with personal affections, not all by your lonesome but with people” (p.135). In a social media age where there are videos, memes, and talking heads in abundance, it is easy to hide behind computer screens and be “digital activists.” But true political engagement begins with everyday decisions with people in the real world. Even from a policy perspective, this rings true in the Church. Local churches who have a benevolence ministry or include in their membership covenants that the church care for one another practically have a welfare policy on the books. Does your church seek to pursue racial justice or reconciliation within its body? Then it has a policy on race. Churches demonstrate their policies on various political issues through ministry decisions.

A worship issue

Along the same lines, politics carries with it significant religious implications. How the Nations Rage dissects the fact that behind every political policy in the public square is a “god” seeking to self-justify the group it represents. It is key for Christians to understand that our worship impacts every aspect of our lives, including the public square and politics involves everything we do, because at its core is a desire for worship. The biggest difference between the Christian’s role in politics is that we do not seek worship of the self, but of the triune God of the universe who alone is able to bring about true justice and righteousness. Where political agendas emphasize hope in self-justification and salvation through legislation, we speak prophetically and say true hope and salvation are found in Christ.

Improvements

The book could have been improved by 1) taking a deeper dive into the dangers of partisan Christianity and 2) unpacking in greater detail what involvement looks like within a political party. Leeman clearly and repeatedly warns against the error of capitulation, worldliness, and the church playing partisan politics. However, historical examples demonstrating how these errors lead to a loss of church witness and a misrepresentation of Jesus are absent. In our current political climate where some people see Christian and Republican as interchangeable terms, this would have been helpful.

In conclusion, How the Nations Rage is comprehensive and one of the best popular-level books on the topic of Christians engaging in the public square. This book should be read by Christians in all walks of life but would be particularly useful for young believers, college students, and young professionals engaging in the public square for the first time. It is also a great resource for pastors, elders, deacons, and small group leaders who want to equip their people to engage a culture where orthodox Christianity is quickly moving to the margins of society.