Episode 15: The Christian and Politics

Description of Christians and Politics:

TSR discusses the Christian’s approach to politics. Come join The Socially Remote!

Summary of The Christian and Politics:

In this episode, TSR discusses how the Christian should approach politics. We start by examining 1 Peter 2 and Romans 13. Then we use an article by the late J.I. Packer as a framework to discover that – when considering politics – Christians should start with Scripture and prayer. We should remember that God is in control no matter what happens, and we should not have division with our brothers and sisters in Christ over political issues. Additionally, we should be informed, but our passion about politics should be subordinate to our passion for Jesus Christ and His Church. We need to vote, and, if we’re so called, we should get involved (either voluntarily or vocationally) in the political sphere. Finally, we should not let our political engagement allow us to wash our hands of fighting injustice, oppression, and wickedness; instead, we should be involved on the local (non-political) level to push back the darkness where we see it in this world.


The Podcast:

Introduction to The Christian and Politics

Challenge to Our Listeners

We began by introducing our 2,020 listens by the end of 2020 campaign. We’re right around 1,400 listens, and we’d like to challenge our listeners to help us get to 2,020 listens by the end of 2020. Please rate, review, and share the podcast! Next we introduced the topic of this podcast, The Christian and Politics.

Our Current Political Situation

Every 4 years, a large part of those serving in political offices in our federal government face the voters:

  • Presidential election
  • 1/3 of the U.S. Senate
  • All 435 members of the House of Representatives

Given the increased role that government (especially the federal government) plays in our lives, these elections have consequences (some intended/some unintended). Unless you are entirely politically disengaged (which, as we will discuss later is not the calling of Christians) then you probably are (or have already) formed an opinion on where you stand on certain and ultimately how you intend to vote on the various offices. The purpose of this podcast is not to persuade our listeners to a certain policy position or a specific candidate. Rather, our purpose is to examine how a Christian in 21st Century America should view and approach not only this upcoming election but politics generally


Sneak Peek of The Christian and Politics

Outline of The Christian and Politics Episode

To guide this discussion, we will examine two Scriptures, 1 Peter 2 and Romans 13. Then we will use an article from J.I. Packer entitled, “The Bible’s Guide for Christian Activism” to frame our discussion about the Christian’s role in politics. What makes this article unique is that it is a reprint of a 1985 article entitled “Pump Truth.” What is unique about this article is that it seems to stand the test of time, and it is written from an outsider’s perspective. J.I. Packer was a British-born Canadian citizen who was a professor at Regent College in British Columbia. Sadly J.I. Packer passed away on July 17th 2020. But his views regarding how Christians in America should approach politics are insightful, thought-provoking, and still ring true 35 years later.

1 Peter 2:13-17

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

Romans 13:1-7

13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.


For the Counselors

David

David feels conflicted about the topic, because he has a tendency to get overwhelmed. In response he withdraws and then becomes critical and cynical. In a moment of honesty, he also admitted that he doesn’t have a lot of the patriotic feels. It’s not because he doesn’t appreciate this country, but he’s lived in other countries. He has a broader perspective and sees all these countries requiring allegiance. He appreciates other countries and cultures. As a believer there are lots of flaws in the way any country is run. And there’s also an odd marriage between church and state that the church often perpetuates. As an example, David cited this gem of a YouTube video:

David acknowledges that he is jaded and probably needs to grow a bit in this area as a believer.

Matt

This is an important discussion, because it serves as a reminder for Matt as to whose kingdom we are seeking and the hope we have as Christians. He’s encouraged that we can hopefully provide a framework for approaching this upcoming election.  The world is a different place after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And we must view all things, including government and politics, through that lens. It’s so easy to get sucked into the contentiousness of our current political climate, so any reminder that pulls us out of that fray is fruitful.

Steven

Steven echoed the feelings of Matt and David. He mentioned that he has friends with a variety of opinions and ideologies. So he provided a quote that illustrates the way these conversations can often become divisive:

When it comes to determining how the Bible addresses political issues, its many related verses can feel like a massive sack of Legos. One person opens the sack and builds a car, another a brontosaurus, another an old Western town. With enough skill, you can build whatever you want.

Want to make the Bible say welfare policies are bad? Find a proverb on laziness leading to poverty (Prov. 10:4). Want to say the opposite? Find another calling people to “defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:8–9).

The point is not that Proverbs contradicts itself. All these passages say something true. But we lack clear rules for knowing how any one of them should guide today’s public policy. Further, we too often witness people and parties exploiting the Bible for their purposes.

Jonathan Leeman, “Be Careful about Reading the Bible as a Political Guide,” Christianity Today 02.20

Deep Dive on The Christian and Politics

Introduction to the Deep Dive on The Christian and Politics

Discussion of 1 Peter 2:13-17

Thinking back about the passage from 1 Peter, it is much more powerful to think about the political progression that Peter undergoes in Scripture. As he was following Jesus, he had the audacity to correct Christ when Christ said that He had to die, because He was expecting a political Messiah (Matthew 16:21-23). So much did he feel this way that he even drew a sword to fight at Jesus’ arrest (John 18:3-11). And then, after Jesus’ arrest he denies Christ (Matthew 27:73-75). Once the crucifixion is done and Jesus is buried, Peter quits and goes back to the family business (John 21:3). It is not until the resurrection and Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter (John 21:17-19) that he is emboldened to change his allegiance from the kingdom of man to the kingdom of God (Acts 4:19-20 and Acts 5:28-30). And this eventually leads him to write what he does in 1 Peter 2:13-17.

The end of this passage is really what should guide us when we think of politics. “Honor everyone” (there’s a lot of not-honoring that happens in October and November of an election year). “Love the brotherhood” (pursue unity with your brothers and sisters; don’t let politics divide you). “Fear God” (for He is at the root of our love for one another and our hope in another kingdom). “Honor the emperor” (again, there’s a lot of not-honoring that happens among peers and against our leaders during election season).

Part of Peter’s maturation process is going from attempting to overthrow the government to being a good citizen.

Discussion of Romans 13:1-7

The Romans passage starts with the Gospel and moves outward to how we live in community with one another. And that is where the passage in Romans falls. It’s in a passage about living in love and living in grace with one another. It seems that Paul is saying that mature believers will trust God and live in unity with one another – despite what governments do or don’t do.

With that backdrop in mind, we want to use the Packer article to unpack how the Christian should approach politics.

Outline of the Packer Article

Packer begins his article by emphasizing that government, in general, has been ordained by God to maintain order, promote justice, and the ‘good’ (as seen in 1 Peter and Romans).

Thus, while the Christian’s ultimate view on politics is the future-coming kingdom, we should not be indifferent about government. This is obviously true in the participatory nature of our citizenship (unlike first century Christians) where we can vote and have the rights to free speech and assembly. Too often, though, we forget that we are sojourning aliens here on earth.

Packer then emphasizes three misguided views of the role of the Christian and politics

The Politicized Intentions of Some Christian Relativists

This characterized by the view that Christianity is a toolkit of beliefs that can be used to bring about other social agendas. This view places politics and earthly power as the true kingdom we should seek. It uses whatever means necessary (including co-opting religion and religious ideas) to bring about those ends. Examples of such a view include the so-called social gospel to achieve certain policy ends but a rejection of the true gospel of Jesus Christ and the transcendence of God our place in this world as his creation

As Packer says, this view has “secularists Christianity under the guise of applying it to life.” 

The Pietistic Inhibitions of Some Christians Absolutists

This is characterized by Christian withdrawal, passivity, and an unwillingness to engage in politics or government. 

Packer points out four reasons why some hold this viewpoint and ultimately concludes its wrong

The Political Imperialism of Some Christian Biblicists

This is the view that good Christians will engage and use politics as a tool for religious (maybe even biblical) agendas. This is the other side of the first coin. Instead of using religion to support political agendas, these Christians use politics to support religious agendas (think culture wars). This happens particularly when we begin associating a particular political party with the faith.

Too often Christians who err in this way end up associating their vote with actually taking action. In other words (and as an example), David relayed an article he read from David French that indicated that we think we’ve done something to combat abortion if we vote pro-life, but we often fail to help the local crisis pregnancy center. What we do on a local level has way more impact than who is in the top-office.

Rather than view politics this way, Packer offers the following as to how Christians should interact with representative government.

The Christian and Politics

Keep Informed

This is really important and necessary and something sorely lacking among Americans.  According to an Annanberg Center for Public Policy study, only 39% of Americans know the 3 branches of our government; 22% of Americans knew none.   Thirty-seven percent could not name a single right in the First Amendment.  And less than half (46% according to the ABA study) know how the number of electors in each state is calculated.

There are substantive issues that Christians should be informed about, because this is God’s world. He created it, and He left us in charge. So we should align our voting to the candidate who will most accurately represent His values. And we shouldn’t be afraid to engage the world on these issues (while honoring those whom we’re engaging). And we also need to keep in mind that we’re not trying to build the kingdom of God through politics.

Be informed, but then go do something about it. Align what you’re doing with the kingdom of God.

Pray for Those in Power

This is often glossed over, but it is probably the most powerful thing we can do. Almighty God stands ready to hear our prayers; yet we are reticent to offer them up (thinking there’s something better we can do). We need to pray for our leaders, prayer for wisdom, and pray for our brothers and sisters.

Vote in Elections and Referendums

It’s important that Christians vote, for the reasons outlined in “Keep Informed” above. We have the ability to participate and we should.

Some Should Seek Political Influence or a Political Vocation

Packer concludes by indicating that some Christians should feel freedom to participate more actively in politics (either through influence or a vocation). He does acknowledge that the nature of politics means that this can be a difficult space for Christians to operate within while maintaining their witness. But he ultimately sees it as a “calling” in which some Christians will feel led to engage.

There are great biblical examples of godly political leaders (Joseph, Daniel, etc.). Regardless of whether the political leader is godly or not, God is in control and will use governments to serve His purposes in the world.

Conclusion to the Deep Dive on The Christian and Politics

Christians must be distinctive in how we approach politics. People should walk away from conversations with us realizing that politics is not our end-game and that our hope lies elsewhere. This statement from Doug Wilson sums it up nicely:

“So if Daniel and Esther and Mordecai and Hezekiah and Joseph could function as political players with true integrity within the framework of those various pagan establishments, how much more should it be possible for a Christian today to function within our quasi-Christian, semi-pagan system? From the way Scripture tells their stories, it is self-evident that they functioned within their settings without compromise. They did not bend when it came to their own personal dedication to the living God, and as far as the larger (compromised) system went, they did what they could as they pushed in the best direction possible, out of the available options.

But this is only possible if a voice in such affairs (like a vote) is not sacramental. If advising the king of Babylon were tantamount to eating the food of the king of Babylon, then Daniel wouldn’t have done it.”

–Doug Wilson, “Seven Reason Why It Is Possible for Christians to Vote for Trump in 2020 without Getting a Defiled Conscience and / or Losing Their Soul

Voting is not a sacrament.

Final Summary

When considering how the Christian should engage in politics, start with Scripture; start with prayer. Remember that God is in control no matter what happens. And don’t have division with your brothers and sisters in Christ. We should be informed, but our passion about a political issue should not supersede our passion for Jesus Christ or His Church. Pray. Vote. And, if you’re so called, get involved (either voluntarily or vocationally). Finally, don’t let your political engagement allow you to wash your hands of injustice, oppression, or other things that God cares about. Go get involved on the local (non-political) level. Push back the darkness where you see it in this world.


Parting Shots

David

The discussion was convicting for David, because as he mentioned, he tends towards being cynical. He also uses the sovereignty of God as a cop out. In other words, God is going to accomplish His purposes so it doesn’t matter if we vote. God ordains both the ends and the means; so it has been easy for him to just disengage. But this episode has shown him that he can glorify God by being a good citizen (being informed, voting, praying, and pursuing unity with his brothers and sisters in Christ amidst an election).

Matt

Matt needed the reminder that we must have an appropriate view of what government is and the limitations of that government. We live in the already-but-not-yet of a spiritual kingdom, and that creates a tension around our involvement with earthly kingdoms. N.T. Wright has a great quote that summarizes Matt’s feelings:

“To reflect the divine image means standing between heaven and earth, even in the present time, adoring the Creator and bringing his purposes into reality on earth, ahead of the time when God completes the task and makes all things new. The royal priesthood is the company of rescued humans, who, being part of earth, worship the God of heaven and are thereby equipped, with the breath of heaven in their renewed lungs to work for his kingdom on earth. The revolution of the cross sets us free to be in-between people, caught up in the rhythm of worship and mission.”

N.T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion

That represents a good way to think about politics. We are here to serve God. And we must understand that there limitations to earthly kingdoms.

Matt ended by wondering whether Packer would amend this article at all given the changes the church has seen in the last 35 years. Conveniently, this will be our topic for the next two episodes as we interview Dr. Carl Trueman about his forthcoming book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.

Steven

This was nowhere near conclusive – it couldn’t be. So, if you want more, here’s more – book recommendations:

Finally, I can’t emphasize enough that as believers we need to start with Scripture. Pray through that Scripture. Then go to outside texts.


Conclusion

What a great episode!

We received some listener feedback about our previous episode The Social Dilemma. Brett said:

Hey, I was listening to the podcast this week and it got me thinking about how God, in his sovereignty, custom builds our experience very much like the social media platforms. I think they continue to draw us in, similar to how God continues to draw us to him. There are obviously some major differences and how God works, but I think that’s one thing that really draws people in. We are created to be drawn in. I think as we move into the future, more and more of Our Lives will be challenged by experience in technology that is built to draw us back, and we will continue to lose our sense of awe  for the reality that has been crafted for us by God

–Brett (listener)

What a great point that we didn’t even think about last episode!

Finally, just a tease of what’s coming up on The Socially Remote:

If you have something to share for our season finale (what did you like, what didn’t you like, what do you want to see next season, etc.), please shoot us a message to our email address.

If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to rate and review us on whatever platform you listen. And please share us with your friends and family.

Please tune in for our next two episodes where we’ll talk with Dr. Carl Trueman about his upcoming book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.

Until next time, we are The Socially Remote!


Links and Stuff

The Podcast

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About The Socially Remote

Does it ever seem like the longer you adult, the less social you become? The responsibilities of being a spouse, a parent, and an employee often leave us with little time for meaningful interaction outside our home and office. As a result, many of us aren’t even remotely social. We try to fill the void with outlets like Facebook and Twitter, but we soon discover social media isn’t as social as it sounds. And the effort we put into soliciting likes and comments doesn’t produce stronger relationships with other people like we’d hoped.

This podcast is an attempt by a pastor, a lawyer, and a generalist to combat the growing culture of social isolation by making time for meaningful conversations about life, theology, and the church. We want to create space in our lives to engage in regular discussion and debate with those around us, and we hope this podcast will encourage you to do the same.

So join Matt, David, and Steven as we take a deep dive on the issues that matter to us and try to put real conversation back in its rightful place.

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For the Lawyers

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Deep Dive segment introduction from “Dive” by Steven Curtis Chapman on the Speechless album. Used with permission courtesy of the Stable Collective.

About the Author
Steven Halbert is a husband, father, son, and brother. He has held various roles in children and family service organizations and currently works as a product manager for an industrial manufacturer. He enjoys teaching adult Sunday school, which is where the idea for his book - The Relational God - materialized. He has an associate degree in Bible and a master's degree in English; and he blogs about business, relationships, and the church at stevenhalbert.com

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