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Christians, Politics, and the Fate of the Nation

June 23, 2008
S. Michael Craven
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In this heightened political season, there are many, including some Christians, who believe the fate of the nation rises and falls on the outcome of November’s presidential election. That is not to say that politics and elections are inconsequential—the nation prospers from good leaders and suffers from the inept—but are government and political leaders really the hope or ruin of a nation?

Regarding politicians and their influence upon the nation, consider two examples. Abraham Kuyper was a prominent Dutch theologian and journalist who served as prime minster of the Netherlands from 1901 to 1905. Kuyper was arguably one of the greatest Christian thinkers of the twentieth century. His dissertations on the application of Christian thought to the whole of life and culture are among the greatest expressions of the Christian worldview; yet despite being one of the most notable Christian political figures in history, his administration was unable to halt the spiritual and moral decline of the Netherlands.

The other example in our survey is Adolf Hitler, who was arguably the most evil political tyrant ever. In less than six years, Hitler would lead the German people into a vision that would force the whole world into an apocalyptic conflagration, killing more than 50 million human beings. Here again, politics are not inconsequential. However, despite such a wicked ruler, Germany survived and quickly returned to being a major economic power.

So what are we to make of these two comparisons, one godly, the other evil? Both seem to have had little long-term effect on the course of their respective nations. Perhaps politicians and political parties are not the saviors we perceive them to be. Driven by concerns over that which plagues our culture, I think we often live and think as if the right political arrangement will “heal” the nation.  However, Jacques Ellul, the twentieth-century Christian philosopher and theologian—himself involved in French politics—rightly points out that politics can at most put “bandages on the wound; it cannot eradicate the source of man’s affliction” (Jacques Ellul, The Political Illusion, p. 234).

If you know anything about me, you know that I am an ardent advocate of cultural and social engagement. I am socially and fiscally conservative; I’m a veteran and patriot and I believe we have a civic duty to participate in the democratic process. So I am not calling for a withdrawal from politics. I am merely suggesting that we have come to rely almost exclusively on political means rather than spiritual means to reform the culture.

I think this is due, in large part, to the fact that politics provides a significant object of interest, able to occupy our thoughts and discussions while really requiring very little of us. We watch the news, read the blogs, listen to the various pundits, wring our hands and fret—but to what end? I know right now who I will vote for in November and I suspect most of you do as well. That process will take me approximately 30 minutes of one day and yet it is possible to spend nearly every waking hour obsessing over the issues and the candidates. My inbox is filled daily with such fascinations. Unless we are actually working in the political realm, why should we spend any time lamenting the issues when doing so does not produce one iota of substantive effect? In this sense, politics can become a major distraction from the Christian’s true purpose and calling. Ironically, it is the liberal who believes in the primacy of politics as the instrument of cultural and social change. For the Christian, it is the gospel! Ellul reminds us that “an unbiased and unprejudiced reading of the Bible shows that converting men to their Lord is the work Christians are called to do” (Ellul, 234).

In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he encourages the young preacher to “endure hardship … like a good soldier of Christ Jesus,” pointing out that “no one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs…” (2 Tim. 2:3–4, NIV). Matthew Henry’s commentary on this passage makes the point that all Christians are soldiers in the Lord’s army and as such, we “must not entangle ourselves with those affairs, so as by them to be diverted and drawn aside from our duty to God and the great concerns of our Christianity.”

Again, I am not saying that being a Christian and having political interest or activity is incompatible; I’m not saying that Christians have no place in politics. I think theologian Donald Bloesch correctly delineates the “great concern[s] of our Christianity” when he writes, “The apostolic mandate is to preach the Gospel, not a political program, but this Gospel has tremendous social and political repercussions” (Bloesch, Essentials of Evangelical Theology, Vol. 2, p. 167). Bloesch is stressing that the political implications of Christianity are indeed important; however, they follow the gospel and the conversion of lost souls. The church must always remain focused on the latter, teaching converts to be disciples, with one dimension of discipleship being social service, which includes politics.

It may be that we are attracted to and over-reliant on politics because it offers a means of cultural engagement without hardship. It’s engagement in the world with ease and without personal cost. We can occupy ourselves so much so that we feel like we’re doing something; we convince ourselves that through this activity we are defending God’s honor and standing for truth. But it’s often just a diversion. In reality, we are standing at a distance from the battle. We’re not actually in it; we’re merely observing while others wade into the muck that is the fallen world. I spend almost every Tuesday in prison where I disciple men whose lives have been nearly ruined by sin and neither politician nor any political scheme can heal their affliction. It is here that light conquers the darkness—in the mud and blood and suffering that sin has wrought—and it is there that we bear witness to God’s amazing grace that transforms people and nations.  

It is the Lord who determines the fate of the nations and it is in Him that we trust. Jesus is the Savior of the world, not any politician or political program. And our calling is to love the Lord, our God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, to love our neighbors as ourselves and to make disciples of all nations. It is nothing less than the pursuit of that which Jacques Ellul says “seems impossible to us: the conversion of an entire population and its government” (Ellul, The Meaning of the City, p. 69).

So we will cast our votes this coming November. But in the meantime, let us not be diverted from our duty to God by an unholy reliance upon politics and politicians.

© 2008 by S. Michael Craven 


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Responses
Response from : Sherwood MacRae  

June 23, 2008 8:42 AM
 

Excellent article - I sincerely hope it will be read by all Christians, especially those who seem to labor only in the political fields - seeking political decisions in areas where our Lord is so much better qualified.


 
Response from : Melody Spray  

June 23, 2008 10:22 AM
 

Thank you for the clarifying and putting into perspective what can be a stumbling block for many Christians, including myself.


 
Response from : millie  

June 23, 2008 10:35 AM
 

Thank you again for bringing light to the temptation of being distracted from our mission, and articulating the call to all who consider themselves Christians. Do we read our bibles as much as we read the headlines? Will we 'wrestle God's word' as vehemently as a political issue? Do we know the scriptures as well as a candidate's platform? Which has more eternal significance? As a parent, I don't have time to keep up with the political pundits, or entertain the latest talk show. That doesn't mean keeping my head in the sand... we can have awareness w/o obsessing, but my time is better spent praying through His word... this is where real culture change occurs. *Rom 12:3 *II Chron 7:14


 
Response from : James Stauffer  

June 23, 2008 10:57 AM
 

I whole-heartedly agree. The political parties themselves understandably promote this idea because it helps them get support. I try to be very involved in politics because of the impact but always try to remember that politics can't touch the heart (but it can save a life).

http://www.geocities.com/stauffer_james/

 
Response from : Martin  

June 23, 2008 10:59 AM
 

Thanks. I seek 'Reformational Thinking'. Abraham Kuyper was key in intiating much thought in that direction.

Upon frequent reflection I find that we are entrenched in hierarchical dualistic thinking and managing. The churches seem to promote such narrow thoughts Sunday after Sunday. Christian Schools also pride themselves in creating 'independent thinkers'. Something is wrong here.

A new biblically-based social operational-model is required.


 
Response from : John H. Armstrong  

June 23, 2008 1:47 PM
 

You have expressed the truth of the matter with care and a proper biblical balance. I am quite sure many readers will not understand but you have helped them think more clearly if they will read your words clearly. Let us pray that they do.

http://www.johnharmstrong.com

 
Response from : Ross L. Gillum  

June 23, 2008 3:37 PM
 

This article is excellent. Thank you. As Christians, our first act, to begin the process to save this nation, the institution of marriage, our freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and possibly even our sovereignty is to gather ALL Christians, Toradic Jews, and independent patriots behind Pastor Chuck Baldwin for President. Pastor Baldwin is the Constituion Party candidate, and with 80+% of this nation professing a belief in God, Jesus Christ, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.......we can take back the chance to submit ourselves to God with a godly man leading this nation, once again.

You can learn a great deal about this fine man at his website:
http://www.chuckbaldwinlive.com/c2008/cbarchive_20080617.html

You can review his platform and his candidacy at:

http://www.constitutionparty.com/

Ross L. Gillum
Snohomish, WA.


 
Response from : Chris Corbett  

June 23, 2008 6:09 PM
 

Michael, Good article. Here, however, is a caveat. You write: "So what are we to make of these two comparisons, one godly, the other evil? Both seem to have had little long-term effect on the course of their respective nations. Perhaps politicians and political parties are not the saviors we perceive them to be. Driven by concerns over that which plagues our culture, I think we often live and think as if the right political arrangement will "heal" the nation."

I think this may somewhat misunderstand the evangelical political aim. The impetus for political involvement by most of those evangelicals who care greatly about it (which, by the way, are very few per capita of the evangelical world), is not to change the nation as such, as you assume. It is instead to leverage one of the major methods to impact souls for eternity through salvation and discipleship. What happens in politics does influence this in a myriad of ways.

Two examples: Because evangelicals helped elect Reagan over Carter and then Mondale, the Iron Curtain fell much sooner than it otherwise would have and as a result a wave of evangelism washed over the former eastern block. Whether this makes for "national change" in 50 years is secondary to the souls saved and grown for eternal purposes.

Example two: Because evangelicals helped elect Reagan and Bush rather than Carter, Mondale and Dukakis, the Supreme Court had just enough justices to decide favorably in the Milford v. Good News Clubs case that opened the public schools to Child Evangelism Fellowship. Whether the election of Reagan/Bush makes any difference on America's cultural fate in the year 2030 makes little difference to the kids who came to Christ as a result of CEF getting into the schools. I know of some. I'm glad we voted in Reagan-Bush, just for the sake of those kids.

So political involvement doesn't have to be to effect long-term civilizational outcomes, although it can have that effect. But that is better left to God. We limited, finited creatures are called to take one step at a time, to do "whatever the next thing is that is best." In that regard, politics in America is a huge cultural and spiritual lever we dare not ignore.

Blessings,
Chris Corbett


 
Response from : Chip Burkitt  

June 23, 2008 6:24 PM
 

While I acknowledge all the influences you suggest, I think the most basic reason why Christians have joined the political fray and largely abandoned the project of evangelizing the culture is that we no longer believe in the gospel's efficacy. We think it is all very well and good for people to be saved, but we no longer believe that saving faith makes an important difference in people's lives beyond the very personal. We've all known too many "born-again" Christians who live for their own pleasure and vote for their own short-sighted interests. We no longer trust God to transform lives, to translate people from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of his Son. We do not see the gospel as radical; we see it as incremental---it causes some change but not what we want. The main reason for this loss of hope in the gospel is that we have forgotten the gospel. The gospel in which have lost hope is not the good news Jesus proclaimed. That good news seems too far-fetched; few Christians believe it at all.


 
Response from : Mac  

June 23, 2008 8:34 PM
 

An interesting comentary. I think though it would be even more interesting if folks new that the "no-fault" divorce was first singed into law by Ronald Reagan while Govenor of California.


 
Response from : Douglass McFarland  

June 23, 2008 8:38 PM
 

This article is right on. Politics today is more about who has the best idea on the major "hot" issues than seeking to govern the people. When we come to the point we have to make laws against EVERY MORAL ISSUE, we have missed the boat. Our PRIMARY concern should be taking seriously the Great Commission and the campaign against unbelief. We are to make Disciples and teach them the whole counsel of God. Moral issues will then take care of themselves as Christians become obedient to the Word. Belief in anything less than that is really unbelief and is not trusting God. May God stir our hearts to be faithful soldiers of the Cross and to trust the Captain of our Salvation to win the war against unbelief.


 
Response from : TWPeck  

June 24, 2008 5:58 AM
 

Some things we need to remember:
1. God and Him Glorified is more important than any election
2. God is sovereign and He does not rise and fall on the public vote
3. Just because one is a believer in Christ does not mean he (she) is competent to govern.
4. His Kingdom come but through our prayers and not our canvassing.

http://achristianresponse.blogspot.com/

 
Response from : Todd Hickerson  

June 24, 2008 10:55 AM
 

Thank you, Michael, for your ministry. I always enjoy receiving your articles by email. I am a friend of Jack Hafer (film not radio) who met you with him a couple of years ago at HPPC at a Christ and Culture seminar at which you taught. I noticed in your most recent article you mentioned that you spend every Tuesday in jail and I grew hopeful. I too taught in jail while I was in seminary at RTS-Orlando and have always hoped to find a way to return to prison and bring others with me as a deacon at our church. However, I have found that more difficult in Texas as ther is a waiting list for applicants. Can you give me some direction here? I'd like to start a prison ministry at our church. Thanks and may the Lord bless you and keep you.
Todd


 
Response from : Tom R. Anderson  

June 24, 2008 11:30 AM
 

Well said! Spiritual problems are not solved by politicians and attempts to enforce a spiritual morality have not been solutions to moral decline and decay. Many Christians have abdicated their role in the culture by relying upon political means to bring the Kingdom of God into fruition. It takes the work of men, women and children who go one on one, praying, interceding and living by example to bring cultural transformation. Jesus sent them out to declare that the Kingdom had come near. He did not send them out to form political action committees, draft legislation, nor to mobilize communities. We are called to heal the sick, cast out demons (release the prisoners, feed the hungry and clothe the naked in His name.


 
Response from : Kevin George  

June 25, 2008 12:30 PM
 

I whole heartedly agree! Even though I recently ran for office, I openly admit that there is an over-reliance on politics to reform, instead of looking to God Almighty to change hearts. The biggest problem is that most Christians seem to have a very low view of God, as if God is a democracy and we can vote or decide what we want to believe and obey, or reject. But God is the Supreme Authority, and until Christians go back to living like that, all politics can do, at best, is to act as a brake to slow down the natural effects of evil. I enjoy your writings very much. Kevin George

http://kevingeorgeforcongress.org

 
Response from : Chuck Ballard  

June 27, 2008 11:03 AM
 

Michael,

Chuck Ballard at Aldersgate Church in Greenville. I have been involved with Howard Tryon (http://www.christianactualism.org/) and didn't know if you have ever heard of him or not. Much of his thinking concerning culture, society and Christianity is similar to yours. He is developing some material that will be going into book form that may have the potential to have major impact in stimulating "salt and light" involvement of the church in our culture. If he is interested in doing so as well, would you be willing to work out a lunch (or other time) meeting with him sometime after mid-July. I would like to come as well just to enjoy watching the two of you talk together!!

Chuck


 
Response from : Elizabeth  

June 27, 2008 8:41 PM
 

Right on - awesome article. Thanks.

God Bless you.


 
Response from : kathleen jennings  

July 17, 2008 8:16 AM
 

Michael,
I think you have it right on. I could not agree with you more. We as people of God need to seriously get to work and do what God has called us to do: preach the word, in season and out of season. It is the only way for one to really have a change of heart and mind. Continue with the work you are doing my brother in Christ and thanks for reminding us of our responsibility in this time of uncertainty. The only one who will make the difference and who holds the whole world in His hands is Jesus Christ
Your sister in Christ, Kathleen Jennigs


 

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