It’s not just about what you say, but how you say it. Many people learned that important lesson very early in life, probably after mumbling a half-hearted apology to a sibling or childhood friend. Maybe it was a mother, grandfather or teacher that leaned in with a knowing glare, “You can be right – and wrong – at the same time.”
We all know what the expression means. Our attitude, tone and willingness to see things from another’s perspective are unspoken yet important aspects of communication. Despite their simplicity, these values are often difficult to uphold, not only for children, but adults too.
Bruce Ashford, provost and professor of theology and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, and Chris Pappalardo, lead researcher and writer at The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, issue a call to rediscover this age-old lesson in their book, One Nation Under God.
The helpful little volume couldn’t have come at a better time. As the increasingly crude 2016 presidential election cycle continues, many people long for political rhetoric that’s less caustic and abusive.
The book’s subtitle gets right to the point: A Christian hope for American politics. The authors aren’t promoting mere diplomacy or political correctness, but a uniquely Christian way to act in the public square.
A Christian vision
Beginning with a theological overview of scripture, the authors build a framework for engaging politics that incorporates biblical perspective, theological accuracy, gospel urgency, cultural awareness and godly virtue.
They divide the material into two broad categories, separated by an interlude. Ashford and Pappalardo use the first portion to outline the major aspects of Christian political thought. This section alone is worth the price of the book. The latter half delves deeper into specific topics in American politics.
When many American Christians think about politics, a short list of hot-button issues and bumper sticker slogans come to mind. Ashford and Pappalardo expose the shallowness of that mindset, opting instead for a robust worldview that draws deeply from scripture and historical Christian thought.
They walk a well-paved road between the equally treacherous ravines of a theocratic society and a public square that’s been emptied of all religious belief. It’s a position marked by civility toward opposing viewpoints, while retaining a healthy dose of Christian conviction.
In short, they offer a way forward that helps identify what God intends for politics and public life, what has gone astray in those areas and how Christians might reshape the conversation in ways that honor Christ. In their words, “This is an act of love for our neighbors, an act of obedience toward our King and an act of eschatological hope.”
Specific political topics govern the second part of the book, such as marriage and sexuality, race relations, war and peace and immigration. Their treatment of each subject is well-done, given the book’s relatively short length, and their positions will be familiar to most evangelicals.
A humble appraisal
They fairly present multiple perspectives on each of the given topics, with one conspicuous exception: the chapter on economics and wealth. Although brief, the material adequately covers the personal dynamics of wealth and poverty, addressing issues like greed and dignity, before targeting economics at a larger scale.
Ashford and Pappalardo promote capitalism as the reigning biblical economic theory and chose not to include any substantial mention of socialism. To be sure, most evangelicals won’t take issue with the omission. In fact, most people probably won’t even notice, but a growing number of millennials would benefit from the discussion.
Capitalism isn’t a forgone conclusion for scores of young Americans, and according to recent polls, socialism appears to be a popular alternative. Readers born in the 1990s entered adolescence as the misdeeds of Wall Street capitalists made headlines in late 2008. They lived their teenage years in a housing crisis, accompanied by a difficult economic recession that left many college graduates with large student debt and few jobs. They are now showing up in voting booths as a socialist presidential candidate steps onto the national political stage. Status quo capitalism hasn’t offered many viable solutions for this generation and they’re looking for alternatives.
Socialism can no longer be ignored in American politics, and a reasonable discussion of economics and wealth should include the topic. Despite the minor omission, the overall value of the book is not diminished.
One Nation Under God is a competent primer for any Christian wanting to grow in godly virtue and political prudence as he or she enters the public square. Many pastors and church leaders will find it useful as a tool for helping believers develop the intellectual and moral rigor to sustain true hope, despite the state of American politics.
Ashford and Pappalardo do a great service to the church by reminding us that, regardless of the accusations and insults of demagogues, we must “calmly and confidently proclaim the true story of the world.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Seth Brown is content editor for the Biblical Recorder.)