A Summer Reading List
Because summer is a chance for many to catch up on their reading, I thought I’d recommend several books that speak to the relationship between Christians and politics. In various ways, each of these books has something to teach Christians about faithful political engagement.
Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010)
The late British journalist and social critic Malcolm Muggeridge once commented, “There is really no such thing as new news. All new news is just old news happening to new people.” As Christians who desire to have our faith shape our political views, it is important that we look to how Christians of past generations wrestled with this question. Hebrews 13:7 teaches the Christian to “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer certainly led a life worth remembering.
Eric Metaxas’ biography on Bonhoeffer is a wonderfully written account of the late German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Born to a prominent German family, Bonhoeffer became an influential Christian leader at the same time the National Socialist German Workers Party (the Nazi Party) began its assent in German politics. Bonhoeffer’s entire life is spent wrestling with the question of how the Christian faith should inform his political participation. For Bonhoeffer living in Adolf Hitler’s Germany, this question was not merely an abstraction, but the most pressing question he faced each day of his adult life.
It may seem odd to recommend a book for 2012 American Christians interested in politics that was written by a British journalist almost 100 years ago. However, G.K. Chesterton, in my estimation, is the most underappreciated writer of the 20th century. He was also a brilliant Christian apologist (Roman Catholic) who debated the likes of George Bernard Shaw and H.L. Mencken. During the first half of 1921 he took a highly publicized trip to the United States, during which time he wrote, What I Saw in America. Though not Tocquevillian in its breadth and depth of coverage, it is thoroughly Chestertonian with pithy insights such as, “America is the only nation ever founded on a creed,” and “The melting pot must not melt.” In particular, the first chapter entitled, “What is America?” demonstrates a more astute understanding of American political philosophy than most Americans could provide. Chesterton’s philosophical exploration of American government is still worth reading.
In the wake of Barack Obama’s recent interview where he stated his support for same-sex marriages, we can be confident that this issue will come up as the election season shifts into high gear. Christians who wish to engage this issue at any level find it incredibly sensitive, and Christians who wish to engage this issue politically find it is quickly becoming the third rail of American politics. Before jumping into the political debate, Christians would be wise to develop a Biblical understanding of marriage. Timothy Keller’s new book, The Meaning of Marriage, is a great place to begin that process. Clearly communicated sound Biblical teaching has become a trademark of Keller, and this book is no exception. While this book does not focus exclusively on the gay marriage debate, the Biblical portrait of marriage that Keller presents, as well as the sensitivity with which he approaches the topic, make this book vital for shaping the Christian’s political perspective on marriage.
James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010)
For those who are not afraid to challenge the conventional wisdom of their religious and political traditions, James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World is a book worth reading. A professional sociologist, Hunter investigated the various ways in which America Christians have gone about attempting to change the world. Hunter analyzes what he considers the three dominant paradigms for Christian political engagement: The political right, the political left, and the neo-Anabaptists. Each of these movements has its strengths and weaknesses, but Hunter concludes that each ultimately misunderstands what faithful Christian political and cultural engagement looks like. Advocating for what he calls “faithful presence,” Hunter urges Christians, not to pull out of political and cultural engagement, but to participate in a deeper, more Biblically faithful way.