Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Politics & Prose

Byron Borger


August 16, 2013

By Byron Borger

Capital Commentary is taking a two-week editorial break. As some of you may be enjoying some time off with family or friends, consider picking up a book or watching a movie recommended and reviewed in these Editor’s Picks from previous Politics and Prose and Politics and Film columns.

Just Politics: A Guide for Christian Engagement by Ronald J. Sider (Brazos, 2012)   

Nearly two decades ago there was much discussion about the "scandal of the evangelical mind.”  As the press releases, book title and punch lines put it, evangelicals were good at a lot, but thinking deeply and distinctively wasn't a strong suit. Still, even in Mark Noll's initial book, he admitted there were glorious exceptions, and the faith-based scholarship of Center for Public Justice—in the historic line of Abraham Kuyper in Holland and Christian Democrats in Europe---was cited as just such an exception. Several years later, borrowing the phrase and the concept, Ron Sider published The Scandal of Evangelical Politics. Again, the story was that the energetic political activism of conservative Protestants was often ill-informed, an odd synthesis of competing political instincts and boldly unbiblical. Sider set out to remedy that. Drawing on the Bible and Christian tradition, he carefully plotted a sound methodology on how to create, or at least point towards, an alternative to the scandal of not-so-evangelical politics. Many of us loved that book and although Sider is a Mennonite, he has drunk deeply from the wells of the Center’s reformed worldview.  

Not a minute too soon, that earlier book has been re-issued with a bold new cover, a clearer title, some helpful updates and minor edits. There is a fine new preface, explaining how things have changed in the field of evangelical political discourse, and the books Sider lists there are a remarkable testimony to what God is doing in our midst. It seems to me that if one wants to buy one book on thinking about politics from a Christian perspective and gaining wisdom about the coherent steps or stages through which we must travel, this is perhaps the best single book in print. Without being arcane or exceedingly academic, Sider walks us from an appreciation of the flow of the biblical narrative which shapes a Christian social theory to a broad political philosophy to on-the-ground research informed by biblical exegesis, to humbly-held policy proposals and concrete legislative positions.  The text is not tedious, and we are built up in becoming wise and careful, thinking in comprehensive ways about all manner of political things. I am glad this "guide" for civic engagement has been retitled and republished.  Not all Capital Commentary readers will fully agree with every bit, but it is evident that it has been significantly informed by the Center and offers a healthy political vision which cuts across ideological divides.  As James W. Skillen notes, "Sider builds on years of experience and conversations with Christians across a very wide spectrum...listen to Ron carefully before taking your next step."

Power, Politics and the Fragmentation of Evangelicalism: From the Scopes Trial to the Obama Administration by Kenneth J. Collins (IVP Academic, 2012)

It is a joy to commend such intelligent, informed and far-reaching books, books which teach us so very much. This is a history of the shifts and changes in American religion and the consequent political divisions. It seems also to be a lament about how partisanship and ideological differences have fragmented even the tightly-knit evangelical community in the US.  Seeking influence and power, perhaps being seduced by it, perhaps lamenting its loss, evangelicals have made some significant contributions and made some terrible mistakes. Through it all, as this riveting history shows, evangelical engagements with public policy throughout the turbulent 20th century have too often reduced the gospel to political rhetoric, failing to ground their political and cultural efforts in nonpartisan notions such as common grace or the dictates of God's Kingdom.  Rave reviews grace the back of this new book—from Stephen Nichols (author of the study of Jesus in popular culture, Jesus Made in America), Peter Lillback (president of Westminster Theological Seminary) and Thomas Oden, one of the leading scholars of early church history. As Roger Olson explains, "While the book is bound to be controversial, especially among those who advocate evangelical social action, it contains much wisdom and a prophetic warning about how the search for power corrupts religion." Collins is professor of historical theology and Wesley studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. 

— Byron Borger runs Hearts & Minds Books. Capital Commentary readers can get a 20% discount on books listed here by ordering through Hearts & Minds.

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”