Book Review – Letters to an American Christian

It’s not polite to talk religion or politics…

…so let’s write a book on both.  Yeah…I wouldn’t have bought this book, but sometimes being a book reviewer forces me to read things I would normally run away from, which is usually a good thing.  I love to talk “religion” [note the intentional quotes], but truth be told I actually despise politics and avoid talking about it entirely. [Except in my head usually when I’m scrolling through Twitter…]  I can’t stomach the partisan rhetoric, the divorcing of a biblical world view for a political party and the overwhelming bloat and corruption that has come to be systemic.  

Now that I have that out of my system…let’s talk about this book.  Bruce Riley Ashford is a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and regular contributor to religion and politics topics at places like Fox News.  The book is a series of “letters” between himself and a young Christian who is looking for guidance and perspective in how his new faith should interact with the world of politics.  This makes for a fun and enjoyable read.

Riley, as smart as he is, sees plenty of guys like me.  Christians can’t disengage from politics, as ugly as it may be sometimes.  “Our Christian faith functions as the deepest motivation for contributing for the common good of our nation…it gives [us] the courage to criticize powerful politicians, corporations, or influencers even there might be negative repercussions for doing so.” [6-7]

The world and the politics reflected in it are, undeniably, embedded into an overall God-centered worldview and a solid biblical theology.  The Bible tells us that sin is alive and well because of the rejection of God as our King.  “It should be no surprise that the realm of politics is twisted and corrupt.” [14]  I knew this was coming…I needed to hear this, and the first two chapters gave a great foundation and a great tone to begin.

I was very happy to see it doesn’t take Riley long to place a stake in the ground not only in a Biblical worldview of all things, including politics – but to also identify the most important political assembly – the church.

Yes, I reacted negatively to this at first as well, but the author defined his terms well “the church is political in the sense that it is the only divinely instituted embassy for Christ’s Kingship. And for that reason, it is the one policy assembly in which every Christian American should participate.” [31-32]

The church is a physical representation of the spiritual kingdom of Heaven here on Earth.  This claim was not lost on the early Christians.  So much so that “Paul had to remind them to give proper respect to the Roman government and resist the temptation toward anarchy. If that were true of Jesus – the founder of our faith – and true of his first followers, doesn’t it make sense that God’s set-apart community today, the local church, would be similarly political?” [33]

Keeping boundaries in place is therefore very important here.  “Whereas statism is a situation in which the government exceeds its proper limits, ecclesiasticism is a circumstance in which the church oversteps its bounds.” [43]. We are not called to “take the place of government or control it.  On the other hand, governments and political leaders are not called by God to appoint pastors, baptize church meets, or interpret the Bible.” [41]. I was very happy to read this as well, in today’s world we can count on a steady stream of lane-swerving from both camps.

So…we need “Christian thinkers who will soak themselves in the biblical narrative and Christian tradition so that they will be able, reflexively and intuitively, to challenge the reigning narratives of the political, parties, and cable news networks. So they will counteract the foolishness that dominates our nations public square and the incivility the degrades our public discourse.” [54]

That might be my favorite paragraph in the whole book.    Of course, I’m totally still chicken to jump into a political discussion. To that end…the author spends the rest of the book reviewing a “Christian view on hot-button issues.”

I would commend these remaining chapters to you, as the author faces them head on with a solid biblical worldview, with a healthy balance of grace and love. I can’t say I agree with him on his perspectives and/or tone, but this is why we as Christians need to engage on politics and hot-button issues.  We need to be encouraged to think outside of our own thought patterns and be challenged on some things, and affirmed on others.

The third and final part of the book offered many helpful encouragements, I found his identification of four opportunities before us:

  1. We need to reintroduce God to the public imagination.
  2. We need to decenter ourselves in our political endeavors, God is the point.
  3. We need to reframe public issues in light of the gospel.
  4. We need to revitalize cultural institutions.  [IOW…don’t shrink back..get involved.]

I commend this book to all who are, perhaps like me, fearful to engage in political thought…it should be like all things – we do so with a solid biblical filter in place and all for the glory of God as we shine the light of the gospel to all.


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