Shortly after I began my series of articles on classic writings on the development of political theory and government, an article appeared in the March / April, 2017, issue of Faith Today, a publication of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, which I thought would make a profitable conclusion to the series. I asked for and received permission to report on it.
The article is called “Is Christ Relevant to Politics?” and was written by Patricia Paddey, a Faith Today senior writer. It consists of interviews with four theologians ‒ Ephraim Radner, John Stackhouse, Stephen Studebaker, and Miroslav Volf. Here is how Patricia Paddey concludes her introduction to the article:
“So how do we co-operate to allow God to direct our political choices and activities? “One of the best resources is theology ‒ the critical study of ideas that have to do with God, and with what God has to do with the world. Faith Today senior writer Patricia Paddey spoke with four theologians and learned sound theology isn’t just important for pastors and professors. It’s important for every Christian’s every concern ‒ including political ones. Following are highlights from those conversations.” (Patricia Paddey, “Is Christ Relevant to Politics?”, Faith Today, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, March / April 2017, page 31)
Here I present only a small portion of those highlights. I also share from an article appearing in the same pages as “Is Christ Relevant to Politics?” ‒ David Guretzki’s “Theology and politics: two mistakes, two correctives.” Both articles can be read at http://digital.faithtoday.ca/faithtoday/20170304?pg=30#pg30.
Ephraim Radner is professor of historical theology at Wycliffe College (University of Toronto). In answer to the question “How can theology inform our political thinking and engagement?” he says that theology helps us understand what God’s purposes are for us as human beings and thus how we should think and act politically. And in answer to the question “How do we decide which goals and values should shape our political decisions?” he identifies two goals that Christians should have: to witness to God revealed in Jesus Christ in the way that we live and to aim at the integrity of the Christian church, not at the larger society. He concludes:
“To me, that is the greatest political challenge of Christians today ‒ an integrated, healthy, unified Christian Church. We don’t have that, so it’s not surprising that we have little purchase in larger society.” (Patricia Paddey, “Is Christ Relevant to Politics?”, page 32)
John Stackhouse is professor of religious studies at Crandall University. In answer to the question “In Need to Know [Oxford University Press, 2014], you write that Christians are called by out Lord to think Christianly. What does it mean to think Christianly about politics?” he says:
“To think Christianly and to act Christianly in politics is to try to do so in the company of Jesus. We should be walking with Jesus as disciples, listening to His voice, trying very hard to please Him, and to achieve His purposes in the world. It’s also to think the way Jesus has taught us to think, particularly through the Bible, as well as through the wisdom of the Church. That means to prize the Bible as God’s Word written. Then also to take full advantage of the other gifts God has given us ‒ in scholarship, experience, art, and in the traditions we have in our ethnic and family units, as well as in our particular churches ‒ and above all, the Holy Spirit.” (Patricia Paddey, “Is Christ Relevant to Politics?”, pages 32-33)
In answer to the question “Two people who self-identify as Christians can think Christianly and come up with very different ideas about politics. What are we to make of that?” Stackhouse says that some people are smarter than other people in different zones, politics is complicated and thus Christians wanting the same outcome may differ on how to achieve it, and what the Lord wants us to accomplish may be complex enough that no one posture or policy can accomplish it. And in answer to the question “What are some of the questions we ought to ask ourselves when considering how to cast a vote?” he suggests “What is necessary in the short term?” and “Who is likely to bring [such] a correction?”
In addition to answering the questions, Stackhouse recommends some online resources representing Christian views. Although I visited and appreciated all of them, I’m sharing here a link to only the one of them that I have in my Internet bookmarks, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, http://www.TheEFC.ca.
Steven Studebaker is associate professor of systematic theology and historical theology at McMaster Divinity School. In answer to the question “Why should Christians explore theology for help engaging in the political realm?” he says that theology helps us understand what it means to live in relationship with God and other people. And in answer to the question “What should be the correct approach for political engagement by Christians today?” he says that they need to think more about preserving democracy than about advancing one of their moral causes and to encourage society to reflect Christian values.
Finally, in answer to the question “If you could offer one single guiding principle for Christian political action, what would it be?” he says:
“Politics is essential for the Christian life. It’s not extraneous. That doesn’t mean that we all need to become political activists and 24-hour news junkies. But we do need to be people who are concerned about homelessness, about the ability of others to thrive, about the environment, about a lot of things to make ours a better world. “We should see politics as one of the dimensions of the life for which God created us.” (Patricia Paddey, “Is Christ Relevant to Politics?”, page 34)
Miroslav Volf is professor of systematic theology and founding director at the Yale Center for Faith & Culture. In answer to the question “In A Public Faith [Baker, 2013], you observe that members of all religious groups want their convictions and practices to shape public life. Is this an appropriate desire for Christians?” he says that it’s more than appropriate, it’s our responsibility. In answer to the question “You believe that coercive faith is malfunctioning faith. How can we safeguard against coercive faith in our private and public lives?” he advises emphasizing freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, and the separation of church and state. In answer to the question “What should be the boundaries for a Christian’s political activism?” he advocates an ad hoc position, being fully involved in some areas and being only partially involved in other areas.
Finally, in answer to the question “Final thought for Canadian Christians on how theology ought to inform our political engagement?” he says:
“I would say to be courageous and not think that Christ is irrelevant to politics. Expressing and giving voice to the radical character of Christ’s vision is what we are called to do. “Act in hope, and hold before others our own better selves, so that somehow we can come together to create and to enjoy a world that is called to be our home.” (Patricia Paddey, “Is Christ Relevant to Politics?”, page 34)
David Guretzky was a professor and dean of the seminary at Briarcrest College and Seminary when his “Theology and politics: two mistakes, two correctives” appeared in Faith Today. In June he became executive vice-president of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. The two mistakes are (1) separating reality into sacred and secular with the former under God’s authority and the latter under human authority and (2) identifying “political” with “the government.” The corrective to (1) is to recognize that God is in charge of everything although His authority is not yet fully publicly acknowledged and celebrated in the secular realm and to try to persuade others that God’s ways are best for all, not just for Christians. And the corrective to (2) is to broaden our understanding of “political” to working toward all the ways in which the glory of God can be displayed in society rather than just voting for a particular political party or candidate in an election.
Guretzki concludes his article thus:
“This means that the Church in Canada needs to better learn to do ‘life together’ … in view of the world, as followers and lovers of Jesus Christ.
“For it will not be how well we are able to convince others of biblical views … but how well we exemplify lives lived for the common good, and not just for our own sakes. ”So Jesus does not say, ‘They will know you are my disciples by how you vote,’ but ‘They will know you are disciples by how you love one another’ (John 13:35).”
(David Guretsky, “Theology and politics: two mistakes, two correctives,” Faith Today, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, March / April 2017, pages 32-33)