I recently read and recommended How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age by Jonathan Leeman , not only for what it says but how it says it. The book focuses on faith and politics, though in the conversations many other significant hot-button issues get brought up. The book not only helps us root our thinking about politics in the Bible (the what of the book), but I recommend the book because it also teaches us how to engage tough topics as Christians. With 2020 promising to be a heated and divisive year in our country, this book will be a timely read.
The book begins with and draws from Scripture. Bible verses aren’t ripped out of context to support existing ideologies or opinions, but Leeman models the needed approach of going back to the Bible, studying and interpreting it with depth, and building our views up from that floor. Too many “Christians” get their views from the news, social media, brief discussions, a headline, or a 500-word blog. They then take already existing thoughts and filters as their authority into the biblical text and quickly interpret a verse or construct their ethics without doing the work of study and reflection. We must go back to the Bible as our authority and guide.
But the second “how to” Leeman’s book exemplifies and encourages is a gracious, respectful dialogue with people we don’t see eye-to-eye with. Conversation and dialogue where we genuinely listen to others and open our views up to critique is desperately needed in the world and church today. We shouldn’t avoid tough topics, but we must begin with the Bible as our guide and engage in conversations marked by grace. We can disagree without being against one another. And as Christians, we should be careful not to let secondary issues divide us when the gospel unites us.
There are other reasons I recommend this book, but here are eighteen of my favorite quotes to give you a snapshot of the book.
“It’s my sense that one of Satan’s greatest victories in contemporary America has been to divide majority and minority Christians along partisan lines.” (8)
“Confusing our judgments with God’s turns our judgments into idols, which in turn divides the church and leads to injustices inside and outside the church.” (10)
“I am concerned that sometimes we let principles of Americanism determine the way we read Scripture, rather than letting Scripture determine how we evaluate principles of Americanism.” (11)
“We become better friends to America by loving Christ first.” (19)
“A Christian’s political posture, in a word, must never be withdraw. Nor should it be dominate. It must always be represent, and we must do this when the world loves us and when it despises us. Anyone who tells you, ‘Withdraw, we’re losing!’ or, ‘Push forward, we’re winning! may have succumbed to a kind of utopianism, as if we could build heaven on earth. Instead, heaven starts in our assemblies, even if only as in a mirror dimly. Christians are heaven’s ambassadors, and our churches are its embassies. Neither panic nor triumphalism become us. A cheerful confidence does. We represent this heavenly and future kingdom now, whether the skies are cloudy or clear.” (21)
“There is no such thing as a spiritually neutral politics.” (28)
“Implicit in these group loyalties are political rivalries. Rivalries—individual and group—drive politics.” (50)
“A few nations are truly awful. Most are mixed. And the heart of a citizen of heaven should reflect that fact. We thank God for the good. We acknowledge and work against the bad. We keep our hope fixed on a heavenly city throughout it all.” (72)
“The Bible is the book by which all our political activity will be judged…the Bible does not tell us what to do on trade policy, carbon dioxide emissions, and public education. But it does tell us that whatever we do in these domains will be measured by the principles of righteousness and justice explicitly established in the Bible.” (80, 81)
“Parties are good servants, but bad masters; useful instruments, but awful identities.” (131)
“Our political instincts should develop by living inside the loving and difficult relationships that comprise a church. You might even say our political thinking should be pastoral.” (133)
“Don’t expect to build a multicultural church unless you’re living a multicultural life.” (156)
“Once again, the church’s most powerful political word is the gospel. And the church’s most powerful political testimony is being the church.” (161)
“The picture Scripture offers is less cultural warrior and more ambassador. Ambassadors know how to fight, but they also know how to be diplomatic. They’re not just trying to win a war; they’re trying to represent a whole other kingdom.” (165)
“So are we quick to listen and slow to speak? Can we show respect in debates? One sign that you identify more with your ideological tribe than you do with Jesus is that you cannot hear what’s good when it comes from another tribe. You assume that everything that people on the other side of the aisle say must be wrong.” (182)
“As fallen sinners, we self-justify and excuse ourselves quickly. But we are all capable of injustice. Something I’ve noticed about my conservative and liberal friends alike is how sensitive everyone has become to the slightest critique, particularly critiques of our tribes. But Christians justified in the gospel can shed such defensiveness. Instead we can listen, learn, reconsider, and confess.” (221)
“As Christians, we should be the first to stop self-justifying and the first to self-indict when necessary. Our prejudices and biases are so natural, in fact, that repenting of them is a lifelong project.” (223)
“A heart indwelt by God’s Spirit should have an increasing measure of difficulty in overlooking the image of God among the hurting. And little by little that burden to administer God’s righteousness should impact our daily decisions in one way or another.” (225)