I confess, I have never been interested in political life. All of that changed for me this year. I will be the first to admit that I still have so much to learn about politics in general (and I still do not care for it), but 2020 has been the perfect storm of insane political theater that has served to open my eyes to the critical need for Christians to not only be informed, but to actually be passionate about politics.
While politics may be simply a game and power-play for far too many people, in reality, the role of politics is to pursue and secure the common good of society. Man is a social creature by nature, and we rely on each other to obtain various goods to which we are directed. Therefore, man is political by nature, and we must necessarily work together for the common good. As G.K. Chesterton reportedly said, “I never discuss anything else except politics and religion. There is nothing else to discuss.” Given this, Christians should be passionate about politics for at least two crucial reasons.
Please note, while my commentary below relies heavily on the classical philosophy and natural law reasoning taught at Southern Evangelical Seminary and Bible College (SES), these thoughts should not be seen as an endorsement by SES of any particular political party or candidate.
1) Christians are Called to Love Our Neighbors as Ourselves
No less than Jesus Himself says the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31). What does it mean to love our neighbors? How do we do that? Certainly, we do that in tangible ways like feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, caring for orphans, etc. I submit to you, this is not all that Jesus had in mind. Loving our neighbors is not less than these tangible acts. Rather, loving our neighbors involves so much more.
Classically understood, love means to will the good of another. That is impossible to do, of course, without knowing what the good is that we should be willing. There are many different and competing ideas in our culture about what the good may be. Are we simply lost in the sea of relativism, tossed to and fro by every fleeting opinion or feeling that a particular person, politician, or society happens to have? The answer is, absolutely not.
In the natural law tradition of Christian thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas, good is that which fulfills the end/purpose of something according to its nature (i.e. what it is). For example, an eye that does not hear well provides no useful information regarding whether the eye is good or not. An eye that does not see well, however, is an objectively bad eye because it does not fulfill its purpose. Such an example turns to moral goodness because man, as a rational animal, is able both to know what is good for him (i.e. what fulfills the purposes towards which he is directed as a human being) and to choose whether to pursue those goods or not. The purpose of man’s intellect is to know truth (understood here as that which corresponds to reality). Thus, truth is the good of the intellect as the fulfillment of man’s rational nature. Man’s will is naturally directed to pursuing a good the intellect apprehends (even if we can at times be wrong in our judgements about the good). This means that acting contrary to reason, that is, to willfully pursue something contrary to the good, just is to act immorally.
I believe this natural law morality is what Paul refers to in the second chapter of Romans regarding “the works of the law” written on the hearts of Gentiles. One does not have to be a Christ follower to understand the general precepts of natural law because, as human beings, everyone is naturally able to understand the basics of good and evil (which is why God held Gentiles responsible for their actions even though they did not have the Old Testament Law).
With this understanding of truth and goodness in mind, consider these words from Paul in Gal. 4:16-18, “Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? They are enthusiastic about you, but not for any good. Instead, they want to isolate you so you will be enthusiastic about them. Now it is always good to be enthusiastic about good …” (HCSB). Paul goes on to say in Gal. 6:9-10, “So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, we must work for the good of all …” (HCSB).
Recall that politics is the means by which we pursue the common good of our society. There is an objective basis (based on natural law) upon which to judge certain political platforms as objectively good or bad. In other words, loving our neighbors and working “for the good of all” involves communicating within the political arena truth about reality. As Paul says in 1 Cor. 13, love rejoices in the truth. This includes the truth about things like the Black Lives Matter organization, critical race theory, systemic racism, LGBTQ issues, abortion, same-sex marriage, socialism, etc.
Thus, willing others (citizens, politicians, or societies) to pursue things that are contrary to the purposes towards which man is naturally directed is not being “enthusiastic about good.” To not will the good of our neighbors is, in fact, necessarily and objectively unloving.
This means that loving our neighbors as ourselves must include what Paul says in Eph. 5:9-11, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light—for the fruit of the light results in all goodness, righteousness, and truth—discerning what is pleasing to the Lord. Don’t participate in the fruitless works of darkness, but instead expose them” (HCSB). Loving our neighbors by shining the light of truth and goodness on the fruitless works of darkness, I propose, will necessarily involve participation at times in politics.
2) Christians are Called to Defend the Gospel
Of course, the most loving thing we can do for our neighbors is to share with them the Gospel. The Gospel involves a certain minimal set of truth claims that must be accepted in order for the Good News to be efficacious. In a culture where darkness has often progressed unabated, the minds of the individuals that make up that culture become darkened as well. This creates tremendous barriers for evangelism. Philosopher Edward Feser puts it this way,
“Due to intellectual error and the complexity of the philosophical issues, some of us sometimes fail properly to understand the main arguments for God’s existence, or mix all sorts of errors into whatever knowledge of God we do have. Due to the weaknesses of our wills, we also fall into moral error. And when moral and intellectual errors multiply throughout a culture, the resulting general social environment may make it difficult for a given individual living within it to avoid more numerous and more serious moral and intellectual errors than he otherwise would have been prone to.”
According to a 2013 article from Parenting Magazine, one main reason teenagers were leaving the faith at that time was, “Christianity is often equated with bigotry, racism, homophobia, and sexism. Today's generation wants nothing to do with that brand of faith” (Housman, Brian. “Why Are Teens Leaving the Faith?” Parenting Magazine, June 17, 2013). Yes, that was 2013. The confusion and errors surrounding these issues have only been magnified in the past seven years.
A common sense grasp of reality and the basic precepts of truth and goodness have largely been indoctrinated out of the majority of modern westerners today. The rich philosophical (and biblical) truths that formed much of Western culture (i.e. a classical understanding of natural law) have often been ignored or forgotten. The darkness left in the wake of such moral and intellectual errors has led to a number of obstacles that now stand in the way of someone even considering the truthfulness of the Gospel. It is our job to remove those obstacles so that people can see the Gospel for what it truly is.
In 2 Cor. 10:3-5, Paul says this about the nature of true spiritual warfare, “For though we live in the body, we do not wage war in an unspiritual way, since the weapons of our warfare are not worldly, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to obey Christ” (HCSB). Spiritual warfare is a war of ideas, and ideas have consequences. In this sense, the political life, as focused on the true and the good in a more foundational and general way, is perhaps the frontlines of spiritual warfare. Fighting for the true and the good in the public arena of ideas paves the way culturally for the seeds of the Gospel to have more opportunity to fall upon good ground.
Moreover, speaking to leaders in the church, Paul says in Titus 1:9-14, “… holding to the faithful message as taught, so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it. For there are also many rebellious people, full of empty talk and deception … It is necessary to silence them … So, rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith and may not pay attention to Jewish myths and the commands of men who reject the truth.” (HCSB).
Pastor, are you equipping your flock with sound teaching that goes beyond self-help and biblical platitudes? Are you refuting those who contradict the truth? Are you equipping those you shepherd with the ability to proclaim and defend the Gospel? There are times when fulfilling your calling involves delving into issues that may be considered “political.” If we shy away from such issues, however, then we are not engaging in the war for the minds of our neighbors and thus, we are failing to defend the Gospel.
Things to Keep In Mind
Given the above, Christians should be passionate about politics because Christ followers are called to love our neighbors as ourselves and defend the truthfulness of the Gospel. This is why SES has created a Certificate in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics to help equip those who desire to become even more informed about these issues.
There are three additional things to note in closing. One, being passionate about politics does not mean we should allow politics (or a particular politician) to become an idol. Politics is not an end in itself. Nor is our ultimate meaning or hope found in a particular political party, platform, or politician. Nevertheless, the fact that we are ultimately called to more than the political life does not mean we are called to less than the political life.
Two, being passionate about politics does not mean that every believer is called to run for office. Some people certainly are called to that. We know, however, that we are all called to be informed, to proclaim and defend the true and the good, and to pray for those in office. As Paul says in Eph. 4:15-16, “But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ. From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part” (HCSB). We can all do our part for His glory and the common good.
Three, you may have noticed that I have not mentioned religious freedom as a reason for being passionate about politics. That particular right falls under the category of the true and the good we are to promote. Regardless, we know the church can flourish in the midst of religious persecution. The early church turned the world upside down while living under the rule of Caesar. As SES co-founder Dr. Norman Geisler would say, the key difference for us, however, is that we get to choose who “Caesar” is and what policies are promoted. Therefore, because we have been given a part to play, every Christian should be passionate about politics because he loves his neighbor and he wants to see the truth of the Gospel proclaimed and defended.
If you would like to learn more about how the integrated approach to theology, philosophy, and apologetics offered at SES can better equip you to proclaim the Gospel, engage the culture, and defend the truth, please download our free eBook today!