Twenty Quotes from Jonathan Leeman's How the Nations Rage
We live in an age of intense division, both within and without the church. Jonathan Leeman’s book, How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age (Thomas Nelson, 2018) provides a helpful frame of reference for Christians seeking to think about politics from a Biblical perspective. Clear, thorough, and filled with compelling application examples drawn from his experiences at Capital Hill Baptist Church, I highly recommend; and not just for people who consider themselves “interested in politics”. In order to motivate you to read it, here are 20 quotes:
On current division in the church:
Christians have bickered about how to best engage the culture. Some want to strengthen the evangelical voting bloc. Others want to pursue social-justice causes. Still others would leave the public square to the pagans and get on with the so-called spiritual work of the church.
Perhaps the saddest example of [division] inside American churches remains the ethnic divide. Black churches exist in America in large part because whites pushed them out in centuries past. Since the 1980s, many whites have tried to welcome blacks, but it’s back into their white churches. The message people of color often hear remains, “Give up your cultural preferences so that I can keep mine.”
On the meaning of Separation of Church and State:
Biblically understood, the separation of church and state isn’t about who gets to decide what morals will bind a nation. It’s about the fact that God has given the state one kind of authority and churches another kind.
On the three purposes of government:
The first and most immediate purpose of government is to render judgment for the sake of justice… [second], to build a platform of peace, order, and even flourishing on which humans can live their lives… [and third], a good government sets the stage for God’s plan of redemption.
The public square as a battleground of gods:
Governments serve gods. This is true of every government in every place ever since God gave governments to the world. The judge judging, the voter voting, the president presiding, all of them work for their gods. No citizen or officeholder is religiously indifferent or neutral.
What he means by little-g, gods:
whatever we cannot imagine living without, whatever we most love, whatever we most trust, rely on, and believe in, and whatever is our final refuge.
America’s cultural idol:
Every culture has some values that it prizes above all others. Os Guinness wisely observed that “freedom is unquestionably what Americans love supremely, and love of freedom is what makes Americans the people they are.”
Investing our hope firstly in the Church:
Mark Dever put it: “Before and after America, there was and will be the church. The nation is an experiment. The church is a certainty.”
How Churches are more like embassies then lobbying organizations:
A Christian’s political posture, in a word, must never be withdraw. Nor should it be dominate. It must always be represent, and we must do this when the world loves us and when it despises us. Anyone who tells you, “Withdraw, we’re losing!” or, “Push forward, we’re winning!” may have succumbed to a kind of utopianism, as if we could build heaven on earth. Instead, heaven starts in our assemblies, even if only as in a mirror dimly. Christians are heaven’s ambassadors, and our churches are its embassies. Neither panic nor triumphalism become us.
The one verse that summarizes the Bible’s political philosophy:
“And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice” (1 Kings 3:28). This one verse, I dare say, gives us the Bible’s political philosophy in a nutshell.
On straight-line vs. jagged-line issues:
Robert Benne [in] Good and Bad Ways to Think About Politics and Religion… referred to two kinds of issues: straight-line issues and jagged-line issues. With the first, there is a straight line from core biblical principles to political policy applications. With the second, there is a complex and jagged line.
I would argue, for instance, that there is a direct path from biblical principle to political application with abortion. Abortion is murder, and the Bible commands governments to protect its citizens from murder. The path is that simple. As an isolated issue, abortion is different than, say, health-care policy. This is more of a jagged-line issue. Christians might bring biblical convictions to bear in a conversation about health-care policy: we should care for the downtrodden, we should treat all people with dignity and respect, we should seek to remove entrenched cycles of injustice and the poverty that follows, we should ensure the insurers and medical practitioners are fair and honest and don’t swindle patients, we should be skeptical of governmental involvement in health care that arguably hurts the quality of care, and so forth. But it’s no easy task to add all these principles together in order to yield the biblical or Christian position.
Christians should unite around straight-line issues while leaving room for Christian freedom around jagged-line issues… So much political dialogue among Christians these days thoughtlessly and divisively treats everything as a straight-line issue.
The political nature of the Church:
Every week that a preacher stands up to preach he makes a political speech. He teaches the congregation “to observe all” that the King with all authority in heaven and on earth has commanded (Matt. 28:20). He strives to shape their lives in the way of the King’s law. We then declare the King’s judgments in the ordinances, embrace the King’s purposes in our prayers, and echo the King’s joy and mourning in our songs.
On making arguments in the public square:
For the purposes of biblical justice and within the bounds of biblical morality (principled), make whatever arguments work (pragmatist).
Christians in particular make three kinds of common-ground arguments: what I call the Luther approach (which appeals to conscience), the MLK approach (which appeals to natural law), and the sociologist’s approach (which appeals to statistics)…. I think we should add one more weapon to our arsenal: the Polycarp approach. The Polycarp approach doesn’t look for common ground. It recognizes that every once in a while it’s good to show up and simply announce, “Behold your God,” like the Old Testament prophets did.
On learning to be before we do:
I want to shift our focus from redeeming the nation to living as a redeemed nation.
Charles is a Washington, DC, speechwriter. He has written speeches for cabinet members, party chairmen, and other DC insiders… Freddie, who was homeless, became a Christian and joined our church. After several good years, the church discovered Freddie was stealing money from members to support a drug addiction, so they removed him from membership. That’s when Charles entered the picture. He began reading the Bible with Freddie, and little by little, Freddie began to repent. Eventually Charles helped Freddie stand before the entire church, confess his lying and stealing, and ask for forgiveness. The church clapped, cheered, and embraced Freddie… Which Charles is the “political” Charles? The speechwriter or the disciple-maker? To ask it another way, which Charles deals with welfare policy, housing policy, criminal reform, and education? Answer: both.
On the last day, what God will require:
Society may get better; it may get worse, regardless of the activities of faithful Christians. That is outside of your control and mine. What is within our control is whether we seek justice, love our neighbor, and do both these things wisely, not foolishly. On the Last Day, God will not ask you, “Did you produce change?” but, “Did you faithfully pursue change in those places where I gave you opportunity and authority?”
Questions for self-reflection:
You who call for immigration reform, do you practice hospitality with visitors to your church who are ethnically or nationally different from you?
You who vote for family values, do you honor your parents and love your spouse self-sacrificially?
You who speak against abortion, do you also embrace and assist the single mothers in your church? Do you encourage adoption? Do you prioritize your own children over financial comfort?
You who talk about welfare reform, do you give to the needy in your congregation?
You who proclaim that all lives matter, do all your friends look like you?
You who lament structural injustices, do you work against them in your own congregation? Do you rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep?
You who fight for traditional marriage, do you love your wife, cherishing her as you would your own body and washing her with the water of the Word?